South Africa

Explainer: The DA vs De Lille, and her fight-back plans to remain mayor of Cape Town

By Marelise Van Der Merwe 20 December 2017

While confusion reigned at the ANC national elective conference this week, the City of Cape Town stared down an uncertain future of its own. Beleaguered Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille was granted a brief reprieve on Monday, but scandal-fatigued residents should brace themselves: this is not over. Expect a battle – if she’s going down, she’s going down swinging. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.

What happened on Monday?

The mayor was granted an extension. She had been suspended from the DA and ordered to submit, to the DA’s federal executive, reasons why she should be allowed to retain her job as mayor by 18 December 2017. The statement, issued via DA national spokesperson Phumzile van Damme, was titled “DA acts in the interest of a clean government that delivers for Cape Town”. Ouch.

De Lille’s legal team requested another week and was given until 5 January, on grounds that the allegations were serious and the consequences could be far-reaching.

Speaker Dirk Smit, who alongside chief whip Shaun August was told to defend his job after allegations of corruption were levelled against both, has reportedly already made his submission. Smit did not respond to earlier questions from Daily Maverick, but says resignation and expulsion are “not on the cards” for him and he respects the DA’s processes. At the time of writing, there was no word yet on August – who said in that February he was determined to become leader of the DA in the Western Cape, despite at the time (alongside De Lille) being investigated for the leaking of confidential documents.

Refresher please – what exactly is De Lille being accused of?

The specifics she’s responding to remain confidential, according to Federal Executive Chair James Selfe. The DA has spoken of “sufficient grounds” for concern over the city’s leadership. De Lille has said, almost verbatim, the exact opposite, saying the reasons she was given were not sufficient for either suspension or resignation. (Actually, the DA itself has said technically, its rules would forbid her suspension as mayor now.)

We’ll bet you five bucks this isn’t all that’s in the report issued by the committee under John Steenhuisen, but a brief run-down of this year’s major disaster areas:

  • In September, reports emerged that the mayor had shut down the local Special Investigations Unit (not to be confused with the national version). This did not go down well with Mayco Councillor JP Smith, with whom De Lille doesn’t see eye to eye. Particularly damaging were allegations that this was an attempt to cover up involvement by councillors in the murder of DA ward councillor Xolile Gwangxu, shot dead in Philippi East in June.
  • Around the same time, allegations emerged around irregularities in building work taking place at De Lille’s Pinelands home.
  • Then, in November, senior official Craig Kesson – after less than a year in his position – dropped a new bombshell. He submitted an affidavit alleging De Lille and City Manager Achmat Ebrahim helped cover up tender irregularities involving city transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead, to the tune of R43-million and which reportedly cost 22 cashiers their jobs. The spotlight was cast on the Foreshore Freeway Precinct project, which was meant to ease congestion in the city. Whitehead’s affidavit says she’s aware of R36-million lost.
  • In December, Kesson popped up with a fresh allegation of nepotism aimed at De Lille.

What does this mean for Capetonians currently saving every drop of dirty dishwater and binge-buying dry shampoo and Toilet Duck?

Probably nothing very good (sorry). De Lille’s spokesperson, Zara Nicholson, told Daily Maverick she was unable to comment on additional questions beyond the mayor’s statement. She did, however, say De Lille and her team remained committed to ensure the city did everything possible to bring water online and work with citizens to continue saving water to avoid Day Zero.

The mayor has remained focused on this and all her work and will not allow anything to disrupt her from doing her job as the mayor,” she said.

It’s hard to imagine, however, that the ongoing staffing problems in city offices – and we use this term very euphemistically to describe the current situation – are not having an impact. De Lille herself has said, in a counter-attack on Kesson, that his accusations, which she branded “criminal”, were “(damaging) the city’s functions” during a time of crisis. She added this week that her main current focus was compiling detailed submissions to FedEx regarding the allegations against her.

Kesson earlier in 2017 became the city’s first Chief Resilience Officer, which means he was closely involved in finding solutions for the water shortage. Among other things, he was to collaborate with experts from elsewhere, including California. Again, an unwelcome struggle within the water team.

Photo: City officials demonstrate water distribution points that will be set up around Cape Town if the city runs out of water and reaches ‘Day Zero’. Photo 16 November 2017: Leila Dougan/Chronicle

To throw a little more tension into the mix, it was announced on Tuesday that increased water usage over the December period had shifted Day Zero ahead again to 29 April. Total storage fell by 1.1% while overall usage rose to 641-million litres per day. This is unwelcome news for drought-weary Capetonians, the majority of whom – rainfall or not – already have limited access to running water and sanitation. The more fortunate, for their part, are learning fast.

What’s De Lille got to say about DA action?

To individual media – not much. In her public statement, though, it was a different story. De Lille issued a scorcher taking on her party in no uncertain terms earlier this week. She reiterated that she would “consider legal action” if removed as Mayor, since she and her team had “worked extremely hard to elevate the administration to its current position of being the best run in South Africa.”

The DA received its mandate from the people of Cape Town and it is that mandate that I have delivered on extremely well,” she added.

She said the “process” (her quotation marks) followed had been “patently unfair” and threw in a final stinger at what she called “the so-called Steenhuisen report”.

Is this a witch hunt?

It’s hard to say. It’s not the first time in De Lille’s political career that she has stared down controversy, but this is arguably the steadiest onslaught, and from the widest variety of quarters at once. It’s possible the tensions surrounding her have become problematic; or that what Selfe previously referred to as “a number of complaints and requests for intervention by caucus members” caused trouble within the council. Is she the most contentious figure in the neighbourhood? That’s a different question.

There have been reports of factional battles, which Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela called “internal democracy”. Days later, however, Madizikizela acknowledged: “We have to get to the nub of the issue. The issue of disunity in the city is an issue that has been on-going for some time. We really need to understand what is at stake as members of the party. If the DA is not united, factional battles will pose a threat to the DA’s national project for 2019.”

He added: “You cannot have two bulls in one kraal.”

De Lille’s supporters say she and her allies are being targeted for the driving of spatial integration and other pro-poor policies, which Selfe has dismissed as “nonsense” – actually, “patently nonsense, as a basic reading of the documentation shows”. According to Selfe, the DA as a whole, and not “just one person”, committed to more integrated communities in 2016.

Photo: Brett Herron speaks to supporters of Reclaim the City during the 4th annual Affordable Housing Africa conference in Cape Town. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

But different documentation paints different pictures. Brett Herron, Mayoral Committee Member for Transport & Urban Development is not the subject of any investigation but was named in Kesson’s affidavit. He said in an answering affidavit that he “(wished) to confirm that the new spatial development transformation policies…. Have received much resistance and there are a number of people who have expressed their opposition thereto and accordingly I do not believe the mayor’s comments to be without merit”. He added that he had “worked tirelessly… to tackle the apartheid spatial legacy and the inequalities in our spatial form”.

This has unfortunately not always been well received despite it being our party policy and electoral promise,” he added. “I believe that by driving these progressive strategies, myself and the others involved, including the mayor, have been targeted politically by some of those who oppose the implementation thereof.”

Whitehead’s affidavit made for interesting reading, too. Whitehead has slammed the process followed regarding Kesson’s affidavit saying the PDA and the city’s Whistle-Blowing Policy – revised in 2014 – outline specific reporting procedures, which she says were not followed. “No satisfactory explanation has been given as to why Mr Kesson’s purported disclosure has been treated differently,” the affidavit reads.

Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson argues it was tabled before council “because I considered it relevant to the matter on the agenda, specifically allegations against Mr Kesson, and recommendations to be taken against him. In considering the recommendations, council needed to be aware that an affidavit had been deposed in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act”.

Whitehead further claims that in terms of the resolution taken on 21 November 2017, where council instructed the city’s’ Audit and Performance Audit Committee to appoint an independent investigator to probe the allegations against Whitehead et al, the appointment was biased. According to Whitehead, because the Audit Committee works under Kesson as Executive Director, and it “brief(s) and manage(s)” the investigator, the independence is questionable. “Because of Mr Kesson’s position within the City, the reporting structure between the Audit Committee and Forensic Services is not at arm’s length,” her affidavit adds.

Kesson, meanwhile, was himself accused of misconduct for allegedly having leaked confidential city information to an unnamed member of the DA who is not a member of the city council.

Unscramble those eggs as you will.

What happens now?

De Lille could be forgiven for passing on the Christmas cheer this year, in short. She remains suspended from the party for now, and she and her legal team are girding their loins for a fight. Her new submission deadline is 5 January, and in the meantime the results of the independent investigation into the Kesson-Ebrahim-Whitehead battle are imminent. The deadline to conclude the investigation – which is separate from FedEx’s inquiry – is 29 December.

Given that De Lille has threatened in earlier reports to take the matter to the Constitutional Court if she must, we’re guessing the plan looks something like this. First step: explain why she should get to keep her job. If that fails, bring out bigger legal guns and do it all over again. Rinse and repeat at higher levels until results are achieved. That said, her latest statement did say she would “consider” legal action – it did not promise it – so for now it’s a waiting game.

What does the competition say?

Well, the ANC seems happy. Following an earlier call for De Lille to be investigated by the Hawks, Xolani Sotashe, ANC leader in the Cape Metro, has said this investigation is a welcome exposure of hypocrisy. “The ANC’s attempt to place the matter and the disbandment of the City’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) on the agenda of the portfolio committee on security and social services was regrettably denied by the DA,” Sotashe said. Sotashe added that the DA had been “claiming and boasting” that Cape Town was well-run. “This is the end of (De Lille’s) revolutionary struggle… she will never be respected by anybody. She will sit down‚ look back and say‚ ‘I once had power‚ I should have done more’.”

Provincial EFF leader Bernard Joseph added that the DA’s clean audits were “only the result of ticking off boxes”.

From the horse’s mouth

Wonder what else the key players have had to say along the way?

The DA remains committed to clean and efficient administrations where we govern. That is why it is of paramount importance that we get to the bottom of these allegations and swift leadership changes be made should they be found to be true so that our commitment to deliver to the people of Cape Town is not derailed. – DA Federal Executive statement, 14 December 2017

There are always different points of view in any organisation. The purpose of the committee is to resolve this. – James Selfe, September 2017

(JP Smith) wants to play cowboys and crooks. – Patricia de Lille, October 2017

I remain hopeful that we will be able to dissuade FedEx from taking the drastic step of initiating a motion of no confidence in me. But if we cannot do so, I would have to consider alternatives to defend my reputation of a lifetime of fighting against corruption and addressing inequality in our society. – De Lille, December 2017

Read Craig Kesson’s full affidavit here. DM

Photo: Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille hosts a media briefing on the city’s Water Resilience Plan on 17 August 2017. Photo: Leila Dougan/Chronicle

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