South Africa

South Africa

Explainer: Why is Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille on the ropes again?

Explainer: Why is Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille on the ropes again?

This week, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille was one of three DA mayors nationally who found themselves with their backs to the wall. But whereas the trouble for Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip and Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba came from other political parties, the source of De Lille’s conflict is within her own party and the City of Cape Town. It’s the second serious showdown De Lille has faced in recent months – and a DA statement on Thursday made it clear that she is not on the same page as party leadership. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Wait, we already know this story. It’s about Patricia de Lille getting into a spat with councillor JP Smith over the shutting down of a police unit and upgrades to her home, right?

Nope, that was the previous City of Cape Town fracas, which culminated in both De Lille and Smith being benched from DA duties. That particular issue is ongoing. DA federal chair James Selfe told Daily Maverick on Thursday that the “claims and counterclaims” made by De Lille and Smith have been referred to a subcommittee chaired by DA Parliamentary chief whip John Steenhuisen, with its findings yet to be announced.

This is a new storm, involving three top City of Cape Town officials all facing suspension for allegations of misconduct. The individuals in question are executive director in the mayor’s office Craig Kesson, city manager Achmat Ebrahim and urban development authority commissioner Melissa Whitehead. In essence, the conflict is one of Kesson vs Ebrahim, Whitehead, and by extension De Lille, following an affidavit submitted by Kesson in which he makes allegations against all three.

What kind of allegations?

Kesson accused city manager Ebrahim of failing to properly implement the City of Cape Town’s contract for MyCiTi bus station management and for failing to report Whitehead for a number of issues of misconduct. These include nepotism, for hiring two friends; improperly favouring a Chinese company to provide electric buses to the City; and irregular expenditure with regards to bus chassis and the city’s Rapid Transit Fare System contract.

He further alleges that when he brought these issues to the attention of De Lille, the mayor responded that they should be buried.

Ok, but if Kesson is a whistle-blower of sorts, why is he now facing suspension alongside Ebrahim and Whitehead?

Because Kesson is in turn accused of misconduct, for having allegedly leaked confidential City information to an unnamed member of the DA who is not in the city council, and for having scanned forensic reports on to external storage devices.

How has Patricia de Lille responded to the accusation that she tried to bury financial impropriety?

With anger. On Wednesday, De Lille released an affidavit responding to Kesson’s affidavit in which she accuses Kesson of launching a “witch hunt” against her. In it, De Lille maintains that Whitehead has already been investigated for irregularities relating to City transport, with some reports still pending. She also says that both she and Ebrahim reacted timeously and appropriately to the allegations against Whitehead. Both Whitehead and Ebrahim come in for glowing praise from De Lille, while Kesson is accused of being temperamental and autocratic.

In the affidavit, De Lille advances her personal history as a whistle-blower to support the notion that her “commitment to exposing corruption is well-known”. Kesson is accused of acting as part of a “political campaign”, which De Lille hints may be motivated by opposition to the mayor’s commitment to Cape Town’s spatial integration.

Service delivery, particularly to people displaced by apartheid, has been one of my main priorities,” writes De Lille. “I have championed two major causes to this end: public transport and affordable housing. This has at times made me unpopular with a powerful minority sector.”

So powerful people want De Lille out as Cape Town mayor because she is a champion of the poor?

Not according to the DA, whose James Selfe released an unusually strongly-worded statement on Thursday calling De Lille’s claims “patently nonsense”.

Writes Selfe: “The DA’s efforts to integrate Cape Town was a pledge of our 2016 election manifesto, and is a commitment of the entire DA, not one person alone. The entire DA caucus in Cape Town completely supports this goal.”

What does it signify that the national DA is willing to smack down its own mayor in public?

It seems to suggest that national leadership is increasingly losing patience with both De Lille’s penchant for public fights and the ongoing turbulence within the leadership of the DA’s flagship metro.

Selfe acknowledged as much in his Thursday statement, saying that the aforementioned subcommittee chaired by John Steenhuisen was established to investigate “obvious political tensions in the Cape Town caucus”.

Asked by Daily Maverick to expand a bit on these “tensions”, Selfe explained that the DA’s Federal Executive had received “a number of complaints and requests for intervention by caucus members”. The Federal Executive believes “these tensions were impacting deleteriously on the effective functioning of the council”.

Shouldn’t these people be focusing on preventing Cape Town from running out of water?

Yes. This was a point made by both Selfe and De Lille, in fact. In his statement, Selfe said that steps were being taken “to ensure that the matter does not in any way disrupt the good work that the City of Cape Town is doing to alleviate the current water crisis”.

De Lille, meanwhile, said that Kesson’s “false” accusations “damages the City’s functions – this in a context where the City is currently under enormous pressure to protect its citizens against the most severe drought disaster in living memory”.

Good thing Craig Kesson has nothing to do with water plans, since he looks likely to get the boot.

Oh wait, he does. As the City’s “chief resilience officer”, Kesson has been intimately involved with emergency planning for Cape Town’s water shortage. When he was appointed, back in the heady days of May 2017, De Lille said: “Craig has impressive abilities to align strategy with implementation, monitoring and evaluation and hence I am confident that he will be able to institutionalise improved resilience responses into the City administration.” DM

Photo: Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille during a press conference held by the City in October, 2017. Photo: Leila Dougan


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