Interview| Premier Helen Zille |

We at MyCityByNight are in awe of Helen Zille’s ability to handle the most inane questions online, while keeping her aspirations of becoming South Africa’s next leader firmly on track. We decided that the rest of SA could learn a little bit more about the fiery opposition party front-woman.

MCBN: I would like to begin by thanking you on behalf of the MyCityByNight team and all of our readers for agreeing to chat to us- you’re probably the most famous person we’re ever going to interview around here.

MCBN: I’ve heard from a number of unnamed sources that you have over the years come to be quite a stickler for professionalism. On that note, what is the correct way to address someone of your stature? I’m pretty sure calling you by your first name is a little inappropriate- What about the Honourable Defender of Truth, Premier Helen Zille?

I prefer Helen, thanks.

MCBN: Being the leader of the opposition party, the DA- it is almost your sworn duty to make sure that the ruling party is kept on the straight and narrow in terms of its treatment
of all South Africans. How difficult is it to keep motivated, even after being called a number of nasty names by other politicians in the media?

One can’t be over-sensitive in politics. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

MCBN: I’ve lived in Cape Town all my life and would never call it a racist city- if anything, we’re locationist, not wanting to share our beaches with people from the rest of the country. What is your view on the notion that #CapeTownIsRacist?

A place can’t be racist. People can. But I reject blanket generalisations of any kind.

MCBN: Moving onto social media, there is one particular thing that has bothered me about politicians and their presence online- or lack there of. How on earth did you manage to stop your friends from taking ugly pictures of you and putting them on Facebook? I mean if you look at someone like Barack Obama it seems as if the only pictures of him online are official one’s issued by the White House or taken by media.

There are lots of ugly pictures of me doing the rounds, but hey, I am not in this for my looks.

MCBN: You were one of the first local politicians to set up a Twitter account, do you find it tricky to manage your own Twitter account given that people generally expect answers for really big issues in 140 characters?

I’ve become much more selective about the tweets that I answer. And I let the insults simply roll over me.

MCBN: Do you think that online platforms like MyCityByNight are important in shaping people’s opinions of urban culture and what we as South Africans value?

I think networking and communication is important. Online platforms are an integral part of urban culture.

MCBN: You have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Witwatersrand and went on to win the City Mayors World Mayor of the Year Award in 2008, pretty much rubbishing notions that BA is a choice of study that wont get you anywhere in life. How important is it for this year’s Matrics to study further?

Education is crucially important. All the studies show that matric remains an important gateway. One is much more likely to get a job with a matric than without. And that correlation continues with higher education. The point about a degree is all the transferable skills one acquires, which can be applied in any situation: the ability to absorb and evaluate information; the ability to form an opinion and argue a case; an understanding of how important it is to get accurate facts in order to determine one’s options in any situation……many, many attributes flow from a good degree course that are very valuable life skills.

MCBN: After the whole #askhelenzille topic became a global trend on Twitter I was quite surprised to see that you were a fairly senior politician with a sense of humour. What was the most ridiculous thing that you were asked? My favourite question and reply was:

RT @helenzille: Yes, Unless he is in my cabinet! RT @aar0nv1: @helenzille A man walks in a forest and no woman hears him, is he still wrong? #askhelenzille

There are so many extraordinary questions that it is hard to pick the most ridiculous. Looking through today’s tweets, you can choose between: “What do you think the female version of @julius_s_malema would look like?” or “If you get Cape Town’s weather right you have my vote.”

MCBN: In South Africa it seems that women (or mooiness as we like to call the fairer sex over here at MCBN) are finally occupying power positions in business and to some extent government as well. How difficult was your journey to power as a woman and what are some of the challenges that you still face today?

My journey was no more difficult than anyone else’s. Everyone faces enormous challenges, and how they deal with them is what makes the difference. The key thing is to recognize opportunity and use it to the max.

MCBN: For years various people have been calling for the Western Cape to become its own Independent Republic of sorts, would this ever happen and is there any merit in pursuing something like this?

We have a constitution, and it stipulates that SA has nine provinces of which the WC is one. We need to defend our constitution, not undermine it. Some changes are necessary, but it would be self-defeating to change the provisions on provinces.

MCBN: When you are not standing up for the rights of the oppressed or busting a move in streets with the people, how do you spend your leisure time?

On my bike

MCBN: If you could have dinner with 3 people, dead or alive- who would they be and why would you have them over?

Martin Luther (to find out where he got the courage to stand up against the Holy Roman Emporor). Galileo Galilei (to find out how he got the courage to stand by his empirical scientific observations). Steve Biko (to find out how he had the courage to face down his torturers and murderers).

MCBN: Which part of your job do you consider the most rewarding?

The variety.

MCBN: As a former political journalist at The Rand Daily Mail how important is it to ensure that freedom to report matters of public interest (ie shady government tenders) remains in the Democratic Republic of South Africa?

Media freedom is indispensable in a democracy.

MCBN: What advice do you have for anyone in South Africa that is aspiring to become a politician like you?

First gain some real life experience in another job.

MCBN: To end off, we have to now ask you our infamous MyCityByNight Would You Rather question-

Would you rather take part in a season of Celebrity Politician Survivor SA with Julius Malema as a member of your tribe?

or instead

Have Paris Hilton- renowned for her acting ability, play you, in a biopic entitled Zille, Zille she’s a Thriller?

Definitely the former.

Thanks again for chatting to us, if you ever need a Minister of Social Media and Online Affairs, I’m available.

Click to follow Helen Zille on Twitter & Facebook

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Im a guy with a very particular view of life... im not quite sure what that view is just yet, but when I find out I'll be sure to let you know...


  1. Her answers seemed a bit short worded as if she were in a hurry to get somewhere or not really interested in the interview. I would have expected her to elaborate a bit more on her answers, offering a bit more than just one sentence apiece.

  2. I agree with James, perhaps her answers could have been a bit more elaborate; but congrats nonetheless on actually getting an interview! (I know how long you have been trying for!)

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