After three hours of deliberation at a special meeting on Wednesday night, a majority of the DA caucus of the Cape Town City Council voted in favour of a vote of no confidence against Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille. But De Lille is not taking off her mayoral chain just yet: the motion still has to be ratified by the DA’s federal executive, while De Lille has indicated that she has no intention of throwing in the towel without a further fight.
Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille has lost the confidence of the DA councillors in the Cape Town City Council. That was the upshot of a secret ballot held on Wednesday night following a closed-doors meeting of the DA caucus.
Of 154 DA councillors, 97 voted to remove De Lille. There were 41 votes against the motion, 15 abstentions, and one spoilt ballot.
“It is clear that an overwhelming 70% of the councillors in the caucus have expressed that they have lost confidence in Ms De Lille’s leadership,” said DA federal council deputy chairperson Natasha Mazzone in a statement after the vote.
That figure is slightly misleading – 70% of those who voted cast their votes in favour of ditching De Lille, but if the abstentions are included, the percentage of councillors who actively supported the motion falls to 63%.
However, the numbers are sliced, the motion passed.
Brought by DA councillor Angus McKenzie, the motion was presented as motivated by De Lille’s breaching of the code of conduct for councillors and the constitution of the DA. It is alleged that De Lille did this through her “frequent” criticisms of the DA in the public domain, as well as the comment made by the mayor that she is “no longer co-operating with the DA”.
This latest step in a series of moves against the Teflon mayor was able to be taken following the DA’s adoption of a “recall clause” at its federal congress on 9 April. In terms of the clause, De Lille will now be given the opportunity to make submissions to the DA’s federal executive to explain why she should not be removed. If the party’s federal executive rejects the validity of these explanations, she will be asked to resign within 48 hours.
But one thing is clear: De Lille has no intention of making this easy for the DA.
By way of illustrating her feelings, after the vote De Lille’s team posted a video of the mayor wearing boxing gloves.
“In the end, what’s important is who’s going to give the knockout,” De Lille says, delivering a pretend punch.
During the video, she is strategically positioned under a poster of a Cape Times headline reflecting an old anti-racism initiative of De Lille’s.
“Don’t Let Racists Speak For You,” it says.
In a Wednesday night statement, De Lille indicated that she would comply with the “next step in the process”: making representations to the DA federal executive.
The DA’s Natasha Mazzone told Daily Maverick after the vote that federal council chair James Selfe would be writing to De Lille on Thursday morning to invite her to make submissions to the body. De Lille’s deadline to do so, said Mazzone, is close of business on Wednesday, 2 May. The federal executive will then consider De Lille’s representations and make a decision on her fate.
The chances that De Lille will receive a sympathetic hearing by the federal executive seem minimal, however. Federal council chair Selfe has in the past released a number of statements indicating an increasing loss of patience with De Lille, including accusing her of spreading “alternative facts” to garner “public sympathy”.
De Lille will certainly not be relying on a sudden change of heart from the DA’s top leaders. She has already indicated that she intends to challenge the constitutionality of the DA’s new recall clause in court.
In particular, De Lille questions how the recall clause can be used against her now, when one of the conditions of its adoption by the DA congress was that it could not be applied retrospectively.
When questioned about this by Daily Maverick, Mazzone said that the clause was applicable because De Lille’s conduct since the 9 April congress has continued to bring the DA into disrepute.
“I think it’s clear in statements that have been made this week that De Lille has distanced herself from the DA and has made statements contrary to DA policy,” Mazzone said.
De Lille maintains, meanwhile, that all remarks she has made in the public domain have been justifiable attempts to protect her reputation following DA statements alleging misconduct on her part.
Councillor JP Smith, who currently serves as deputy caucus leader, told journalists after the vote that the motion was discussed “at some length” in an engagement he described as “calm and respectful”.
De Lille characterised the meeting to the media as consisting of “people [making] a lot of untested allegations against me”.
“I asked councillors whether they discussed the motion of no confidence and whether they had a mandate from their branches. Councillors are not in council as individuals, they represent constituencies, and I asked whether the councillors received a mandate from the people they represent.
“Over the past eight months, I have received thousands of messages of support from residents across Cape Town so it is clear that this motion was driven by individuals’ feelings and not the public’s will.”
The possibility that the recall of De Lille may be unpopular with Western Cape voters is one that the DA is clearly not blind to, just a year ahead of the 2019 general elections.
With reference to the De Lille fracas, Mazzone told 702 on Wednesday with remarkable candour:
“There is no way you could spin the damage this has done to the Democratic Alliance.”
For now, however, De Lille is staying exactly where she is. Asked by journalists if she would be back at work on Thursday as Cape Town mayor, she replied:
“Of course.” DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine