“People want to know, what do you call me – ‘are you still mayor, or are you not mayor’?”
In this way, Patricia de Lille began a breakfast event on Wednesday by addressing the elephant in the room.
The question was indeed begging to be asked. Throughout the event – organised by the Cape Times– De Lille was referred to as “mayor”.
Online marketing for the event continued to refer to De Lille as “Executive Mayor of Cape Town”, while the Cape Timesratcheted up the confusion by advertising it on its Facebook page shortly before the start time as a breakfast with “axed premier” De Lille. Axed she may be; premier she was not.
De Lille suggested that a way around the problem of her status was to simply address her by her name.
“At least I have my name still: Patricia de Lille. So you can call me Patricia de Lille.”
By way of clarifying the events around her, De Lille explained: “There is currently a political impasse in the City (of Cape Town council). The DA has terminated my political membership of the party.”
But, she stressed, in order for anyone to replace her as mayor, the position needs to be declared vacant by the Independent Electoral Commission. This has not yet been done, and De Lille is heading to court on Friday to interdict this step.
That didn’t stop Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson announcing on Monday that he was holding “all the authority of the mayoral seat”, with he and Council Speaker Dirk Smit now the supreme political authorities in the City of Cape Town.
De Lille has also reportedly been told that she needs to vacate her mayoral office and return any city property.
Yet at the Cape Times event on Wednesday morning, which was set up as a platform for De Lille to discuss the spatial transformation of Cape Town, De Lille proceeded to discuss city policy as if her mayoral chain was not anywhere close to being yanked from her neck.
Taking the audience through the city’s plans for social housing, training, and the extension of transport routes, De Lille repeatedly used the words “we” and our” to outline policy – both past and future.
De Lille attended the breakfast event in the company of DA councillor Brett Herron, advertising the fact that she still retains allies in these fraught times.
Evidence of another form of comradeship was found in a Wednesday morning statement from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who said: “Leah and I are very sad that Patricia De Lille’s services will be lost to the City of Cape Town. Although she represented a particular political party, she played an important role as a unifier in a society still bearing the scars of its divided past.”
But some of De Lille’s most vocal friends at the moment are within the ranks of other political parties.
At a press conference called by the Western Cape ANC on Wednesday, representatives of both the provincial and national ANC lashed out at the DA’s treatment of De Lille.
“The lengths to which the DA has gone to get rid of Mayor de Lille has shown up the party for what it really is: a racist and elitist party which aims to protect white privilege at the expense of Africans, coloureds and Indians,” acting provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs told journalists.
The ANC’s occasionally puzzling statement on the matter seemed to assume that the DA had utilised its newly-adopted recall clause to axe De Lille.
“As the ANC we have asked our councillors and councillors of other parties to reject the De Lille clause from being ratified,” Jacobs said.
When it was pointed out that the DA’s ousting of De Lille was not, in the end, accomplished via the recall clause, the ANC’s Western Cape elections head Ebrahim Rasool dismissed this as an irrelevant technicality.
“There is an unconstitutional takeover and capture of the City of Cape Town by a factionalised if not racialised cabal,” said Rasool, adding that the ANC would support De Lille’s interdict to prevent this.
The ANC threatened the DA with retaliatory action on a number of fronts.
Jacobs said that the provincial leadership would be petitioning national government to put the City of Cape Town under administration, citing the city’s possible failure to pass the budget due to divisions, and instability in the (apparently now defunct) mayoral committee.
Former ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa, on hand to represent the national party leadership, reminded journalists that the ANC had not hesitated to take such action in the past when it came to its own municipalities.
“It is not an exaggeration that the wheels are coming off,” Kodwa said.
Rasool suggested that DA leader Mmusi Maimane “effectively made the case for administration when he came in to act as mayor and municipal manager through the water crisis”.
ANC caucus leader Xolani Sotashe, meanwhile, threatened individual action against Maimane.
He said that Maimane’s interference with the business of the Cape Town City Council had resulted in Maimane’s gaining access to confidential information about council business. Sotashe clarified to Daily Maverick that he was referring to the Bowman Gilfillan report into allegations of corruption and wrongdoing by city officials.
As a result of Maimane having allegedly overstepped the mark in this way, Sotashe said: “The ANC must consider opening a case against Mmusi Maimane.”
Yet despite the ANC’s newfound fervour for De Lille, the leaders sought to make it clear that they were not wooing her to join their party.
“We are not in the business of enticing anyone to the ANC,” said Rasool, while Kodwa denied that any talks were happening between De Lille and the ANC.
It’s already been a long week in Western Cape politics – and it’s only halfway over. DM