Helen was born in Johannesburg and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Witwatersrand
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.
She became involved in various NGOs and organizations, including the Open Society Foundation, the Independent Media Diversity Trust, and the Black Sash.
She joined the former Democratic Party in the mid 1990s, where she was asked to reformulate the party’s education policy and stand as a candidate on its election list for the Western Cape legislature. She also acted as Technical Adviser to the party at CODESA in the early 1990s. Helen was elected to the provincial parliament in the 1999 general election and appointed MEC for education.
She served as MEC under the newly formed Democratic Alliance until 2001, and then as Leader of the Opposition in the Provincial Legislature until she was elected to the National Assembly in 2004.
As a Member of Parliament she served on the Portfolio Committee on Education, and was the Democratic Alliance’s National Spokesperson.
In May 2006, Helen was elected mayor of Cape Town and in 2007 she was elected Leader of the Democratic Alliance.
On 14 October 2008, Helen was awarded the 2008 World Mayor award by City Mayors, an international urban-affairs think tank.
After winning the Western Cape province in the 2009 general election, the Democratic Alliance appointed Zille Premier of the Western Cape.