Patricia de Lille may be entering the final days of her seven-year stint as Mayor of Cape Town, but her staff complain good-naturedly that she shows no signs of easing up.
Indeed, De Lille’s last weeks have been marked by a flurry of activity, reflecting her two current priorities: to leave disadvantaged communities with a clear sense of where they stand in terms of City planning, and to exit her office with her reputation intact.
The latter seems a tall order, given the very public dissolution of her relationship with the DA over the past 18 months. Yet De Lille is satisfied that she has ultimately come out on top.
“I’m slowly getting to a space where now I can finally say I cleared my name completely,” she says.
The outgoing mayor rattles off a list of ways in which she feels vindicated — including the decision by the Hawks in early October not to pursue bribery charges against her, following allegations made by businessman Anthony Faul in February that De Lille had attempted to solicit a R5-million bribe from him.
But De Lille is not in a mood to either forget or forgive, and is now planning to sue Faul for defamation to the tune of R1-million.
“My name has become synonymous with fighting corruption — and imagine you are now accused of being corrupt!” she marvels.
De Lille remains angry about the fashion in which the DA went public with Faul’s “untested” allegations. In her version of events, the DA was drawn to her reputation as a feisty corruption-buster — built largely through her whistle-blowing on the Arms Deal — and then proceeded to try to tarnish her name with corruption allegations once her relationship with the party soured.
She has also issued an ultimatum to four DA politicians — including deputy chief whip Mike Waters — to make a public apology to her for circulating a document falsely claiming that she was exposed by Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu for committing tender fraud.
That ultimatum expires on Thursday, with no apologies yet forthcoming.
If none materialise, says De Lille, “I will seek advice from my lawyers and go lay charges, because it’s fraud”.
She now describes her engagement with the DA as an “abusive relationship”, and says contemptuously that she is done with fighting the party’s “early childhood development politicians; special needs politicians”.
Yet it emerges that one DA figure with whom the outgoing mayor still enjoys a constructive relationship is Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.
“Helen and I get along,” De Lille says. “Even through this whole process, she had warned [the DA] that they weren’t following due process.”
De Lille has never been a politician prone to self-doubt, and even after the events of the last 18 months she refuses to consider the possibility that her 2010 decision to merge her Independent Democrats party with the DA was a mistake.
“I’ve never regretted it. No, no, not at all,” she says firmly.
She believes that the factor that propelled her to make that decision in 2010 — the need to build a “strong alternative” to the ANC — is still valid today.
Comments of that nature suggest that rumours of De Lille throwing her lot in with the ANC in the near future may be unfounded.
When asked which party she intends to vote for in the 2019 general elections, De Lille responds: “I will choose then. The campaigns have not yet started.”
The outgoing mayor is evasive when discussing her future plans, saying: “I honestly have not made a final decision.”
Many offers have been made, she says, and she intends to take two weeks off after her mayoral position expires at the end of October to consider her options.
It seems clear that her future will see an ongoing involvement in the political sphere, however.
“I do think there is a deficit in leadership these days,” De Lille says — and adds that she intends to give another 10 years at least in service to South Africa.
But she is adamant that such service will not take the form of an ambassadorship overseas — contradicting claims made in May that De Lille was angling for a diplomatic post in the US from the ANC.
“I was already offered the position as [US] ambassador [when Ebrahim Rasool left the post],” De Lille says. “I said ‘No, I can’t smile the whole day’. It’s certainly not for me. I think those offices need some fresh blood. It’s wrong to send politicians for retirement there.”
De Lille admits that she will miss the job as Mayor of Cape Town.
Looking back on her seven-year term of office, she says she would appraise her performance at 8/10.
She is proud of the fact that Cape Town remains the “best-run metro” in terms of giving people access to water, sanitation and refuse removal, and says she has done her best to bring “parity of services” to people across the city.
In terms of other achievements, she cites the progress made on concluding outstanding land restitution claims in the city, and her establishment of a campaign against racism which includes a desk in the mayoral office where racist incidents can be reported.
But she acknowledges that significant challenges will be faced by her successor, Dan Plato.
“The transformation of the city in terms of spatial planning: I will be the first to admit that that must be the next priority. We must bring affordable housing closer to the city.”
Though one of the criticisms levelled against De Lille’s time as mayor has been the increasing cosiness of the City with property developers, the outgoing mayor does not see the private sector as either the cause of, or solution to, Cape Town’s ever less affordable housing situation.
“You can’t interfere with the market,” she insists. “But what you can do is to use City-owned land to build affordable housing.”
In general terms, De Lille feels that the greatest challenge facing Cape Town is a problem shared countrywide: “We need to get some urgency into service delivery. We are testing the patience of our people.”
Once she leaves office, an immediate priority is completing a book on her term as mayor to be published by NB Publishers early next year. By the sounds of things, it will be a publication which will pull no punches when it comes to chronicling De Lille’s experience with the DA.
De Lille says she is looking forward to spending more time with her “babies” — four huskies — and resuming her favoured pastimes of golf, reading and dancing. But even when discussing the prospect of this upcoming leisure time, De Lille displays a certain restlessness.
“I can certainly not sit at home,” she says. DM
"Those who will not reason are bigots; those who cannot are fools; and those who dare not are slaves." ~ George Gordon Byron