HELEN ZILLE, Executive Mayor of Cape Town and leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance, has been awarded the 2008 World Mayor Prize by City Mayors, the international urban affairs think tank. Commentators supporting her nomination said that in a country devoid of present day role models, this “amazing lady” was making a difference and giving people hope. “Her only equals are Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in Southern Africa.”
Tann vom Hove, Editor of City Mayors said Helen Zille was the judging panel’s unanimous choice for the 2008 World Mayor Prize. “The Mayor of Cape Town has dedicated all her professional life to further the well-being of all sections of South African society. She has done so with courage, tenacity and, above all, a deep-felt love for Cape Town, her country and its people,” Tann vom Hove added.
Prior to entering politics, Helen Zille made a name for herself during the apartheid era as a political journalist, working for the Rand Daily Mail, South Africa’s leading liberal newspaper. Working there, she emerged as a leading anti-apartheid critic, famously exposing the circumstances behind Steve Biko’s death in police custody in 1977. Since becoming Mayor of Cape Town in March 2006, Helen Zille has survived an aborted attempt by the provincial government to downgrade her office and an attempted coalition coup. To the people of Cape Town, she is an inspiration and shining example of what good local government should be.
Runner-up of the 2008 World Mayor Project is Elmar Ledergerber, Mayor of Zurich. He will receive the 2008 World Mayor Commendation. Tann vom Hove, Editor of City Mayors says: “The mayor deserves this honour because of his success in building bridges between the privileged and less privileged communities of his city.” The Mayor is also praised for his efforts to make both Swiss and non-Swiss citizens feel at home in Zurich.
Third place has been awarded to Leopoldo López, Mayor of Chacao, and prominent Venezuelan opposition politician. He is admired both as a hands-on mayor and a national politician fighting for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela.
The top 11 mayors of World Mayor 2008
1. Helen Zille, Mayor Cape Town, South Africa
2. Elmar Ledergerber, Mayor of Zurich, Switzerland
3. Leopoldo Eduardo López, Mayor of Chacao, Venezuela
4. Phil Gordon, Mayor of Phoenix, USA
5. Ulrich Maly, Mayor of Nuremberg, Germany
6. Jaime Nebot, Mayor of Guayaquil, Ecuador
7. Marides Fernando, Mayor of Marikina City, Philippines
8. Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, Mayor of Tehran, Iran
9. Göran Johansson, Mayor of Gothenburg, Sweden
10. Salvador Gandara, Mayor of Villa Nueva, Guatemala
11. José Fogaça, Porto Alegre, Brazil
The World Mayor Project
World Mayor, a project organised by the local government think tank City Mayors, aims to raise the profile of mayors worldwide as well as to honour those who have made long-lasting contributions to their communities and are committed to the well-being of cities nationally and internationally. According to city residents from all continents, an outstanding mayor must possess qualities of greatness: leadership and vision, good management abilities, social and economic awareness, ability to provide security and to protect the environment, as well as the skill to foster good relations between communities from different cultural, racial and social backgrounds. The World Mayor Project was first conducted in 2004.
In 2004 Edi Rama won the Award for his achievements in turning the drab and neglected post-communist capital of Albania into a thriving western European city, before being chosen as leader of the country’s Socialist Party. As mayor, Dora Bakoyannis contributed substantially to the success of the Athens Olympics and ensured that the Games would be of long-lasting benefit to the Greek capital. After receiving the 2005 World Mayor Award, she was appointed foreign minister. John So, winner of World Mayor 2006, is Melbourne’s first directly elected Lord Mayor. Born in Hong Kong, he is an example of the ‘Australian dream’.
Mayor Helen Zille’s role in public life began with a stint as political correspondent for the Rand Daily Mail, South Africa’s leading liberal newspaper during the apartheid era. While at the paper, she emerged as a leading anti-apartheid critic, famously exposing the circumstances behind Steve Biko’s death under police custody in 1977 – claimed to have been from of self-inflicted wounds. She also made a name for herself at the height of apartheid as a member of the Black Sash white women’s resistance movement and as a peace activist in her adoptive city of Cape Town. She then worked in public affairs as a public policy consultant and as director of communications for the University of Cape Town.
Prior to becoming mayor, Zille was elected as a member of the Western Cape provincial legislature in 1999, serving as executive council member (MEC) for education until 2001 and then as leader of the opposition, before being elected as an MP to the South African Parliament in 2004, also in Cape Town. Zille is leader of the Democratic Alliance, a relatively recent party in post-apartheid South Africa, but with antecedents within earlier parties of the liberal democratic multiracial tradition in South African politics, most notably the Progressive Party of Helen Suzman.
During World Mayor 2008, Helen Zille has had the most passionate and eloquent support of any candidate. Her humanity, charm, integrity, vision and political know-how have all been praised in equal measures. “Mayor Zille is a phenomenal woman, she leads the city as opposed to ruling it. She understands the people who live in the city and what they need to be successful. She appeals to people across age, gender and race. She is a true inspiration to the youth of South Africa.”
“Helen Zille is an inspiration. Her courage, tenacity, honesty and common sense are so refreshing as we plough through the difficult political time we are having at the moment. She is a shining example of good governance.”
“Helen Zille has taken a strong anti-corruption stance, unlike her predecessor. She has also succeeded in uniting a politically divided opposition in the best interests of Cape Town citizens. Her strong leadership on fighting crime, the preparations for the 2010 World Cup and drug abuse has made Cape Town a world class city again.”
This award does more for “Brand Cape Town” and “Brand South Africa” than any marketing hype. This is what leadership is all about. CapeInfo salutes Helen and hopes that readers will add their say by clicking on the “Comment” link at the top of this story.