This Thursday, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille faces a vote of no confidence brought by the DA caucus of the City of Cape Town council. It may well end her mayoral career. At the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday, however, De Lille brought out the last card up her sleeve: an urgent application to have the vote undertaken by secret ballot. And she chose a leading EFF figure to argue her case. By REBECCA DAVIS and APHIWE NGALO.
Patricia de Lille may be considered a spent political force, but on Tuesday it looked as if somebody had forgotten to tell that to the people gathered outside the High Court to await her arrival.
A swarm of #ImWithDeLille T-shirts filled the stairs of the court from mid-morning, with supporters brandishing placards declaring their firm belief in Cape Town’s mayor. “Don’t Cry Mayor We Are Here!” read one sign.
The majority of the De Lille supporters appeared to be residents of the Hout Bay-neighbouring township of Imizamo Yethu. Some credited the mayor with an improvement in their circumstances over the recent past.
“I was unemployed for 14 years. Now I am able to put food on my table and send my kids to school,” Sadia Jallouw told Daily Maverick.
When DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela entered the court, he was loudly booed by De Lille’s fan club. Among these supporters, De Lille is seen as an authentic champion of the poor. The DA, not so much.
A man called Mandidisi Livo suggested to Daily Maverick that the DA wanted to remove De Lille from office because without her there, the party would be able to achieve its ultimate aim of clearing black people out of Hout Bay altogether.
In the past week, De Lille has framed her struggle against the DA as that of a woman of colour with the temerity to take on the “backroom boys’ club” which dominates the DA.
In arguments before the court, her lawyer Dali Mpofu stopped short of explicitly advancing race and gender as factors influencing the DA’s behaviour towards De Lille. But he made it clear what De Lille’s team believes is happening here: “They want to get rid of her. But they want to do it without a disciplinary hearing, by manipulating the rules of Council.”
The matter being heard on Tuesday was relatively narrow. De Lille wants to see members of the City of Cape Town council be permitted to vote in Thursday’s motion of no confidence against her by means of a secret ballot. She launched the court application after discovering that DA federal chair James Selfe had issued instructions to the DA caucus to abide by the “caucus decision” on the matter – in other words, that De Lille should go.
The DA’s court papers confirm that this was indeed the case. They record: “Initially, the DA indicated that all its members were bound to support the decision of the caucus.”
A letter sent by Selfe to caucus members subsequently assured them that “no disciplinary or other action will be taken against any DA councillor, no matter how they vote on the [motion of no confidence]”.
For this reason, says the DA, there is no need to ensure a secret vote on Thursday.
Mpofu argued on Tuesday that this was plainly disingenuous.
To vote against the express wishes of DA party bosses, he said, DA councillors would have to be “suicide bombers”. Mpofu quoted from press statements sent out by provincial leader Madikizela to demonstrate how publicly DA leadership has expressed their desire that De Lille be ousted.
De Lille’s team also contends that the DA’s position on this matter is hypocritical, since the party has in the past called for secret voting to decide motions of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma in Parliament. The party did so out of concern that ANC members who refused to toe the line might face intimidation or other pressures.
The same principle applies to Thursday’s vote of no confidence in De Lille, the mayor’s lawyers argue.
“If [the DA] are such believers in the free vote, why can’t it be secret?” asked Mpofu in court.
The DA’s court papers acknowledge that it may be true that “objectively, a secret ballot is warranted in the present case”. They argue, however, that it is not the court’s role to dictate that the Cape Town City Council must settle its affairs via secret ballot. This would amount to judicial overreach.
The question of whether the vote on De Lille’s fate should take place in secret, says the DA, is “a decision for the council”.
Mpofu retorts that leaving the council to decide this matter presents the same problem as an open vote on the motion of no confidence.
“Who is openly going to vote for a secret vote?” he asked in court, suggesting that anyone who supported a secret ballot would be instantly assumed to hold views in conflict with those of the DA leadership.
The DA argues that this is a “simple case” which should be dismissed.
But Mpofu points out that a great deal potentially hinges on its outcome.
Opposition parties in the council have indicated that they will not support the DA’s motion of no confidence in De Lille. Those numbers, if combined with the number of voters within the DA caucus that De Lille believes would like to back her, could potentially see to it that the motion fails.
“It’s that stark,” Mpofu told the court. “With a secret vote, she stays. With a so-called open vote, she goes. That’s it.”
Judgment in the matter has been reserved until Wednesday.
When he’s not lawyering, the other beret Mpofu wears is as chair of the EFF. On Tuesday, some of those demonstrating outside court were dressed in the regalia of the Fighters – posing the inevitable question of whether De Lille could find a future home within the EFF if the DA succeeds in ousting her.
One such EFF supporter, Siya Mkungume, told Daily Maverick that he believes De Lille’s only crime is caring about the lives of the poor.
Though the DA may well prevail in its court battle, and in Thursday’s vote, De Lille’s team has clearly succeeded in winning her some sympathy among black voters of the Western Cape. DM
Photo: Patricia de Lille’s supporters set up a special entrance for her at her secret ballot application which took place at Western Cape High Court on Tuesday 13 February 2018. Photo: Hlumela Dyantyi
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