South Africa


DA’s chosen method of removing De Lille smacks of desperation

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille delivers a speech during a press conference for the Citylab at the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris, France, 23 October 2017. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Patricia de Lille saga for some City of Cape Town insiders has been De Lille’s creation of a victim narrative which they say does not support the facts. But on one point at least De Lille is undoubtedly correct: the method in which the DA has opted to deal with its mayor problem does indeed smack of desperation – even if the DA successfully defends in court its method of ousting De Lille.

As things stand, if anyone poses the question: “Why was Patricia de Lille removed as the Mayor of Cape Town?” the answer is as follows: “Because she gave a radio interview in which she said she would resign.”

There is more than a hint of absurdity in this. While everybody knows that De Lille has been dodging serious accusations of misconduct related to her mayoral role for the last eight months, the fact remains that she is not being sacked for those.

This was confirmed at the press conference given by DA federal executive leaders on Tuesday, at which they stressed that the circumstances under which they are axing De Lille are “entirely” based on remarks she made in a 702 radio interview with Eusebius McKaiser on 26 April 2018.

Here’s a reminder of some of De Lille’s alleged offences as mayor, drawn from a report compiled by Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys and an inquiry chaired by DA chief whip John Steenhuisen:

  • De Lille allegedly exerted undue influence on members of a selection panel tasked with appointing the Cape Town city manager, by sending a text message to the panel reading: “I want to keep [erstwhile city manager Achmat Ebrahim] so score him the highest. Thanks.”
  • De Lille allegedly blocked an investigation into potential corruption involving the City’s transport authority.
  • De Lille allegedly contravened the Finance Management Act by failing to report financial irregularities relating to the MyCiTi bus project to the Cape Town City Council.
  • She similarly allegedly failed to report irregularities relating to the Foreshore housing project.
  • De Lille allegedly behaved in an “intimidating and belittling” manner to City Council caucus members who challenged her.
  • She was also accused of attempting to solicit a R5-million bribe from businessman Anthony Faul in 2013, a charge taken seriously enough by the DA’s federal executive that they went public with the claim and laid a criminal complaint against her.

These are all serious claims. Yet in the eight-month period that the DA has been advertising these alleged offences on De Lille’s part, the party has not managed to make one of them stick against her as justification for her removal.

Why would this be the case?

DA federal executive chair James Selfe attributed this failure at least partly on Tuesday to De Lille’s litigiousness, which has seen the party’s disciplinary processes delayed as the mayor repeatedly approached the courts. Selfe also said that De Lille’s lack of co-operation had hampered processes, a charge denied by De Lille.

It appeared the party had finally found the solution to its unbudgeable mayor when it adopted the recall clause at its April congress. This would allow any DA leader to be removed from office if found to have lost the confidence of their peers.

Yet in the end, when it came to De Lille, the DA did not use a clause which many felt had been adopted almost entirely as a way to oust her.

The cynical conclusion to be drawn from this is that the party was uncertain of whether the recall clause would pass constitutional muster when challenged by De Lille in court, as she had promised to do.

And so the party ultimately opted to utilise an obscure clause in its constitution stipulating that if a member says publicly that they intend to resign from the party, their membership automatically ceases.

This is, surely, nobody’s idea of a satisfactory resolution.

De Lille, defiant as always after the federal council’s announcement on Tuesday, was entirely accurate when she told journalists:

As I sit here today, I’ve not been found guilty of anything.”

There are many who will agree with De Lille that the DA’s chosen method appears to be a “shortcut” to circumvent the time and hassle of pursuing its disciplinary processes against her.

Beyond this, the DA’s tactic fuels De Lille’s argument that she has, in fact, done nothing wrong – beyond giving a radio interview in which her utterances, as her lawyers will argue on Friday, are ripe for different interpretations.

It is clear that the DA has chosen this unorthodox route as a way of bringing a hopefully rapid end to a saga which, as federal deputy chair Natasha Mazzone admitted on Tuesday, has caused “immeasurable damage” to the party. This is harm that the party cannot afford a day longer as the 2019 elections loom ever larger into view.

But in pursuing this strategy, the party also opens itself up to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards in its approach to the ANC.

After all, the DA constantly harangued the ruling party about its failure to unseat former president Jacob Zuma in a timely fashion as accusations of misconduct stacked up against him and internal fighting fractured the ANC. The DA was correct to do so, but its own chaotic handling of an analogous situation involving one of its own leaders leaves it looking short of feet to stand on.

Now it has created a situation where history books will record that, on the face of it, the DA deposed one of its most high-profile leaders based on nothing more than an ambiguous radio interview. That’s not a good look for a party which has always claimed the South African moral high ground for adherence to constitutionality, fairness, and due process. DM


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