Are you burning down or building?


By Helen Zille

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” Eric Arthur Blair, otherwise known as George Orwell, the most insightful political analyst of the 20th century, once said.

This saying has accompanied me through decades of politics.

Every time the DA had the courage to tell a harsh, inconvenient truth, the commentariat wept with indignation. Think back to our predictions about cadre deployment, BEE, statehood, the impact of our labor laws, and of course “Stop Zuma”.

We have been pulled over the coals time and time again. We turned out to be right too.

When the analysts finally “get” it, they repeat what we said a decade earlier as if it were a new insight.

And so it will be again when they have to admit the truth of our sharp warning that South Africa’s democratic institutions, as well as our economy, will burn to ashes under an ANC/ EFF/ MK/ PA coalition.

The DA’s role is to do everything possible to prevent this from happening. The only people who have the power to do that are the voters. We still have three weeks to drive home this point.

So what would you do if you had to convey this harsh truth with the greatest possible impact in a 30-second television broadcast? This was the question the DA faced when we came up with our burning flag ad.

We chose the flag as the clearest symbol of the dream we shared 30 years ago, at the beginning of democracy under President Nelson Mandela. The flames show how his vision was destroyed by 30 years of ANC rule. And we warn that it will be completely wiped out under an ANC/ EFF/ MK/ PA coalition.

The 30 seconds ends with our flag restored to its former glory with a call to action for every voter: “Save SA, vote DA!”.

This powerful symbolism elicited the predicted response.

So should we avoid any metaphor or symbolism in our communication that might cause offense or controversy? No! We want to wage war against those who are working to destroy the dream that once united our nation. We want to save our flag.

Controversy helps drive our message.

We must confront voters with a clear choice: Do you burn down or do you build? That is the issue in this election. Only the DA has the courage, experience and record to beat the arsonists.

In 30 seconds we convey in the ad that took 492 words to analyze here. And for free, without costing us anything, our message is boosted by the fuel of manufactured outrage.

In the war of words, so far, the prize for the most insightful comment about “The Flag” goes to @riaanafrica, who posted on X: “If you look very closely, as in very closely, you’ll notice it’s a piece of paper and not a municipal building or a train”.

  • Helen Zille is chairman of the DA’s federal council.