The negotiated exit of Patricia de Lille from the Cape Town mayor’s office has cemented her reputation as a Teflon politician. The political solution announced on Sunday means she departs office on 31 October on her terms – with all disciplinary charges related to leadership style, nepotism and maladministration withdrawn. DA national leader Mmusi Maimane went solo in this key move to end the reputational damage that eight months of internecine party battles have caused, so the party can focus on the 2019 elections.
That’s the thing about political solutions – only those involved know precisely what went down. And right now, talking is not in the interest of either of the two politicians involved in the exit deal – the Cape Town mayor and the DA national leader – because this particular solution suits both of them.
On Sunday, DA national leader Mmusi Maimane and Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille faced the media together, and it was a stiffly polite affair. Maimane said there was a “mutual agreement” that De Lille would leave office on 31 October 2018 after all internal disciplinary charges against her were withdrawn a day before these public proceedings were scheduled from Tuesday. And De Lille announced that she had agreed to go because political leaders needed to rise above their differences and “now that the DA has withdrawn the charges against me and I have cleared my name, I have decided to step aside”.
It is a messy resolution in many ways, but political deals often are.
Questions remain over what tipped De Lille’s hand to accept leaving office after months of vocally and stridently insisting on a public disciplinary hearing in public to clear her name. It was never about position, she has argued, but about clearing her name.
Strictly speaking, her name is cleared only with regards to the party issues, but not if the council should pursue its own investigations. Such City investigations were not covered by the agreement, it emerged on Sunday.
It also remains unclear what De Lille would do come 1 November 2018.
“I’ve not yet decided,” the outgoing mayor told Daily Maverick as the focus right now was on considering the near future after many high-pressured months.
There are plenty of options for the veteran politician, who has played her cards right throughout the more than eight months’ bruising saga with her party.
De Lille, who in 2011 became DA Cape Town mayor and in early 2015 also Western Cape DA leader, became embroiled in factional battles soon after the 2016 municipal poll, when the DA got two-thirds voting support.
In January 2017 she stepped down as provincial party leader barely 18 months into the term, but tensions ratcheted up towards late 2017, when the drought became a political football in the DA factional battles.
The start of 2018 saw a convoluted mix of party disciplinary charges, a motion of no confidence that De Lille won, albeit with one vote, in February, and being relieved of responsibilities related to the drought and water management and others.
The DA national congress in April 2018 changed its constitution to allow for the recall of a public elected representative in executive office, dubbed the “De Lille clause”. It was used to terminate her membership on the basis of comments during a radio interview, but then overturned in the courts in June after De Lille took legal action.
There was a second no confidence motion in late July that was withdrawn at the last minute – even though it’s understood the DA would have had the numbers as the pool of De Lille’s previous supporters has shrunk since the start of 2018.
Then open public disciplinary proceedings from Tuesday were agreed on, only to be dropped given Sunday’s announcement, based on agreement that Daily Maverick has reliably learnt was reached on Saturday.
Whatever De Lille might decide her future would be, her reputation as a Teflon politician is cemented with Sunday’s “mutually agreeable resolution”.
For Maimane this political solution paves the way for pulling the DA back into line and focusing on presenting a united front for the 2019 elections. It will be up to him to make it work, and to manage any potential fallout that political solution can have.
He may yet face questions from the federal executive, the highest decision-making structure, as he went solo to clinch this “mutual agreement”. That much was confirmed by the DA leader himself on Sunday in an oblique reference that he had informed the federal executive ahead of the public briefing.
And there are questions as to whether the agreement to withdraw all disciplinary charges was an admission that claims of nepotism, corruption and maladministration were unfounded, and mere tools in internal party factionalism.
“As a party that prides itself on clean government, we were obliged to consider all allegations levelled against Ms De Lille,” said Maimane on Sunday.
“It is never easy to take action against one of your own. But I am confident that throughout this painful period, we have acted in the best interest of the citizens we serve.”
But all party disciplinary charges have been dropped now in what has been described as “an opportunity for the City of Cape Town caucus to take stock, to regroup and to unite”, describing it also as “an opportunity to close a difficult chapter in our history”.
The damage of the DA factional battles in Cape Town have been multifold, denting the party’s proclaimed good governance platform. It has taken the wind out of the sails in parliamentary debates where the DA is used to touting that where it governs, it governs best, as the ANC and other parties have latched onto the conflict. And the DA also is having to explain itself to members, supporters and the broader public for the various twists and turns in the De Lille saga.
The lustre has dulled from what that shining moment for South Africa’s largest opposition party, when it clinched enough votes in the 2016 municipal elections to form opposition coalitions in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, in addition to getting a two-thirds majority in Cape Town for the first time in its 12-year control there.
That’s in no small part due to the Cape Town factional battles over De Lille, although the DA-led coalitions have their own turmoil elsewhere. In Nelson Mandela Bay Metro DA Mayor Athol Trollip faces another motion of no confidence from a united front of political parties unhappy with what’s seen as his bullying leadership style.
But Sunday’s political solution to the De Lille saga has refocused the DA on settling that which is damaging, to focusing on the pending 2019 elections.
And getting that “mutually agreeable resolution” to the De Lille saga is a vital first step in resolving internal ructions. The argument is that it’s the bigger picture that matters.
On Sunday Maimane made that clear.
“We draw a line on this particular chapter and focus on building an alternative (to the ANC),” he said.
And if one thing clearly emerged it is Maimane’s determination amid what he calls “South Africa’s crisis” to build – and lead – that alternative. DM
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