The ANC is not the only South African political party currently battling to unseat a leader. In Cape Town, a protracted and increasingly ugly struggle is playing out between the DA and the city’s mayor, Patricia de Lille. The DA is publicly claiming that one of its trusted deployees is corrupt; De Lille furiously denies the charge. It is clear De Lille has lost the support and protection of her party, but the handling of this all begs questions. By REBECCA DAVIS.
In September 2017, a sensational claim emerged. The DA-appointed mayor of Cape Town, it was alleged, had unlawfully upgraded her private residence using public money. The allegation was first made in an internal report by DA councillor JP Smit, and later taken up with alacrity by the ANC in the Western Cape.
The comparisons with the ANC’s hot-button issue of Nkandla were irresistible. Mayor Patricia de Lille vociferously denied the claims, saying that she had personally paid for renovations to her home. City of Cape Town Speaker Dirk Smit told the media that the City had paid for security measures to be installed at De Lille’s house following a police assessment.
“The City only paid for the security measures which SAPS instructed should be implemented,” Smit said at the time.
When Daily Maverick interviewed DA leader Mmusi Maimane in October, Maimane was adamant that De Lille had no case to answer.
“There is in our view – obviously – no evidence to suggest wrongdoing,” Maimane said. “I’m comfortable, as I sit here: I would never, as leader of the DA, have stood up strongly to protect any wrongdoing by any individual.”
What a difference a few months can make.
As of last week, it was revealed that the Auditor General had flagged security upgrades worth R140,000 at De Lille’s home as being non-compliant with “the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers Act”. This was despite the fact that a preliminary Auditor General report from June 2017, shown by De Lille to media, noted: “The expenditure incurred does not need to be disclosed as irregular.”
The DA was quick to add the Auditor General’s final findings on the upgrades to their growing list of charges against De Lille. In a statement from DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, he called De Lille’s previous claims about the upgrades “blatantly false”, and added: “It is simply intolerable for a sitting mayor to mislead her party and more importantly the people of Cape Town in such a deliberate fashion.”
De Lille hit back on Twitter, saying that the problem was that the Speaker “didn’t follow proper supply chain procedure” in implementing the security upgrades. At the time that the scandal broke in 2017, however, Smit said: “The proper supply chain management processes were followed to procure the required safety equipment.”
Whether the fault lies with De Lille or the City, one thing is clear: the investigations initially undertaken by the City and the DA into the security upgrade scandal were insufficient.
Madikizela’s claim that the mayor “misled her party” implies that the DA was happy at the time to take De Lille’s word for it – which surely speaks to a failure of oversight for which the DA has yet to take responsibility.
The upgrades were only part of the Auditor General’s damning findings against the City of Cape Town, resulting in a downgrade of the city’s audit status to “unqualified with conditions” for the first time in a decade. Other findings, say the DA, included “poor consequence management of senior managers” by the mayor and irregular expenditure relating to the Transport and Urban Development Authority, which De Lille has “routinely and very publicly defended”.
Madikizela described the audit findings as “untenable” and “wholly unacceptable”. De Lille shot back by pointing out that Madikizela’s own department, the Western Cape government’s Human Settlements, has received the same audit findings without similar action being taken against Madikizela.
Seemingly the final nail in De Lille’s coffin has now arrived in the form of an affidavit signed by Johannesburg businessman Anthony Faul, alleging that De Lille attempted to solicit a bribe of R5-million from him in 2012 in the course of a deal involving the supply of fire extinguishers to the City.
On Thursday, De Lille issued a lengthy rebuttal to the claim, including copies of email correspondence between Faul and the mayor’s office seen by Daily Maverick.
The emails make clear that Faul’s proposal was that he would raise funds to supply the fire extinguishers for free with the aid of a letter of support from the City of Cape Town. This was agreed to and a letter from the mayor was duly supplied.
By early January 2013, Faul writes that he has received a call from the mayor to explain that she urgently needs 1,000 fire extinguishers. He explains in the email that his firm has them available, but due to the short notice they will have to be paid for because the funding for City extinguishers is not yet ready. He offers a discounted price of R500 each, to a total of R500,000.
“This made me furious,” De Lille writes now, “as it seemed that the City had been taken for a ride and that Mr Faul never seriously intended to carry out the project on the basis initially proposed. The letter of endorsement was then withdrawn.”
A subsequent email from a City staffer to Paul Boughey – then De Lille’s chief of staff, now DA CEO – repeats this version of events, quoting an SMS sent by De Lille to Faul’s rep, saying, “Ek het nie tyd vie mense wat nie by hul word hou nie” (I don’t have time for people who don’t keep their word).
In Faul’s next email, he reacts to the withdrawal of the City’s endorsement. “This obviously comes as a big surprise to me. Nobody has communicated anything to us. Could you advise as to the sudden change of heart,” he writes.
De Lille says in her current rebuttal that this email was sent two days after she had supposedly solicited a bribe from Faul. “Why did he not raise the bribery allegation there and then?” she asks.
De Lille concludes: “The allegation he makes that I tried to make him pay me R5-million is utter hogwash. How could I demand payment from someone who was to fund his own project?”
The mayor has also questioned why it took Faul more than five years to come forward with his claim, which, she points out, makes him legally liable in terms of corruption law.
Daily Maverick requests for comment from Faul on Wednesday went unanswered.
The DA’s James Selfe told Daily Maverick that the DA became aware of Faul’s claim when Faul “approached the DA with the allegations within the last 10 days”.
Perhaps Faul only became emboldened to blow the whistle when he witnessed the other allegations against De Lille coming to light. Or perhaps he is an aggrieved party with a grudge against De Lille, seeing a chance to settle an old score via a fabricated complaint. One might say this is a typical “he-said, she-said” scenario, except that De Lille has a paper trail to at least partly substantiate her version – though the bribe was allegedly solicited via an unrecorded phone call.
A police investigation may clarify these matters, as the DA immediately laid charges against De Lille – a move in obvious contrast to their previous apparent lack of investigation over the security upgrades matter
De Lille tweeted that another person who might be able to shed some light on the fire extinguisher saga is DA CEO Boughey, who the emails reveal was made aware of the imbroglio at the time.
Contacted by Daily Maverick on Wednesday, however, Boughey said: “This is correspondence from a number of years ago. I was not privy to the discussions [between De Lille and Faul] themselves. This is a matter between Mr Faul and the Mayor as it relates to the allegations he has made and has nothing to do with me. And I reject any insinuation to the contrary.”
This brings us to another aspect of this saga. The DA’s response to De Lille has thus far been seemingly to approach her alleged wrongdoing as operating in a silo. The only other person to go down so far has been Transport Commissioner Melissa Whitehead, who is currently suspended by the City Council. (The City Manager, Achmat Ebrahim, resigned.)
Former Independent Democrats deputy leader Simon Grindrod is hardly the most objective source in all of this, as De Lille’s long-time ally, but in a lengthy defence of the mayor he makes the point that it is absurd to claim that De Lille was given free rein over the City of Cape Town during her tenure.
“The DA made sure from the first day of her candidacy that an impressive team of handlers were managing her,” Grindrod writes. “Paul Boughey, now DA CEO, was installed as her gatekeeper and Chief of Staff. Ian Nielsen, the Executive Deputy Mayor since 2009, had for many years been embedded as Mayco Member for Finance where he oversaw City budgeting and spending. The DA, understandably, ensured they had absolute control of the finances, policies and messaging of their Mayor and her administration.”
He continues: “Indeed, as central party control intensified under Maimane, every decision and media release had to be approved by headquarters to ensure compliance with policy and branding. It is therefore pertinent to ask where all of these structures were during the processes now being called into question. Decisions were first approved by the party caucus, and ultimately, voted upon by a Full Council meeting before being enacted.”
De Lille was always known to be a political firebrand – sometimes a euphemism for “loose cannon” – so there is every reason to believe she would have been monitored exceptionally closely.
If, despite this scrutiny, she was able to behave with impunity up till now, that raises serious questions about the DA’s internal accountability mechanisms.
The DA’s willingness to take firm action against a leader accused of wrongdoing is indeed refreshing in a country where this is rarely witnessed. But the party must accept that if De Lille is indeed guilty of corruption on various fronts, that renders the DA liable in the same manner in which it has claimed the ANC is responsible for its own rotten eggs. DM
Photo: Patricia de Lille (Photo by Leila Dee Dougan)
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