South Africa

Cape Town politics

Chaos at De Lille’s ‘farewell’ as councillors resign, citing party racism

Outgoing Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, 17 October 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan

There were dramatic scenes in the Cape Town City Council on Thursday as five DA councillors resigned from the party, citing racism and expressing support for outgoing Mayor Patricia de Lille in a blistering press conference. The council is due to consider a report from law firm Bowmans which reportedly implicates De Lille in corruption. To add to the chaos, it is still unclear whether De Lille intends to step down as mayor after all.

It was supposed to be Mayor Patricia de Lille’s farewell speech to the Cape Town City Council. But in the address de Lille gave to councillors on Thursday morning, any mentions of “goodbye” were missing.

De Lille opened her short speech by reiterating a now-familiar theme: “I have suffered vicious attacks to my good name for more than a year and still people are intent on destroying me”.

Citing “vehement and racist bullying tactics” used against her, De Lille announced her intention to “reserve my rights regarding any findings, recommendations or conclusions contained in the Bowmans reports”.

One of the reports in question is due to be tabled in the Cape Town City Council on Thursday afternoon, and has yet to be made public.

The issue of the Bowmans reports has been mired in confusion, with media – including Daily Maverick– leaked a summary of one report earlier this week which appears to implicate De Lille in failing to report corrupt tenders in the city’s transport authority and exerting undue influence on former City Manager Achmat Ebrahim.

De Lille claims, however, that a second Bowmans report in her possession exonerates her of wrongdoing.

I cannot understand how the same company conducting the same investigation, on the same charge, can come to two different conclusions,” the mayor said in a statement on Wednesday.

The report to be tabled at council on Thursday afternoon allegedly recommends that De Lille, alongside allies including city transport boss Brett Herron, should face disciplinary action.

If so, this throws a spanner in De Lille’s works – as the agreement she brokered with DA leader Mmusi Maimane to resign as mayor was with her understanding that she would walk out of the office cleared of all wrongdoing.

De Lille is due to exit the mayoral office in just six days’ time, with her replacement Dan Plato ready to take the seat.

ACDP councillor Grant Haskin appealed to the mayor for clarity on Thursday morning as to whether she would indeed step down, saying that the council and ratepayers deserved “stability and credibility”.

De Lille’s response: “You’re not my shop steward. I’ll speak for myself. It’s none of your business.”

While the question of De Lille’s resignation still hangs in the air, DA chief whip Shaun August dramatically submitted his own resignation to the council shortly after De Lille’s speech.

I cannot stand what is happening in this council, and as such I resign as your chief whip, I resign as a councillor and I resign as a member of the Democratic Alliance,” declared August – embracing De Lille on his way out of the chamber.

More resignations were to follow, with four further DA councillors announcing their exit alongside August as part of an evidently pre-planned action.

The other DA councillors are all long-time De Lille allies: Suzette Little, Greg Bernardo, Siyabulela Mamkeli and Thulani Stemele.

They are also all councillors of colour – and in a press conference given directly afterwards, the five made it clear that their resignations were directly linked to what they perceive as racist treatment from the DA.

In a spectacle broadcast live on eNCAwhich must have caused DA strategists to clutch their heads in horror, the five councillors took it in turns to deliver scathing critiques of the party. A consistent thread: the claim that the DA is racist, gives preference to white councillors, and focuses its Western Cape governance on catering for the rich.

We cannot continue allowing a political party to govern and they don’t even know where the Cape Flats is,” said Little.

The same rules that apply for my white colleagues don’t apply for me.”

Mamkeli described the DA’s approach to transformation as a “farce”, and said that De Lille deserved credit for attempting to push the transformation agenda against the odds.

Mmusi (Maimane) is just a black puppet being used to fool the people of this country,” Mamkeli said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Bernardo and Stemele, with the latter lashing out at the DA’s practice of using people of colour to campaign “on the ground” while white DA staff members “sit in offices as strategic planners”.

None of the five would be drawn on their future plans – but there were hints that they intend to remain in active party politics.

I’m coming for (the DA),” promised Bernardo, while Mamkeli vowed: “In 2019 I must make sure the DA in the Western Cape is relegated to the opposition benches”.

The high-profile and orchestrated nature of the resignations will fuel speculation that this may be the opening salvo in De Lille’s plan to resuscitate her former political party, the Independent Democrats.

In an interview with Daily Maverick last week, De Lille claimed to be still “considering her options” when it came to her future outside the mayoral office.

That is, of course, if she intends to leave office at all. If De Lille does revoke her resignation, however, her tenure as mayor is likely to be short-lived anyway – as a vote of no confidence from the council would swiftly follow.

DA staffers scrambled to downplay Thursday’s events on Twitter, pointing out that the resignation of five councillors out of a total caucus of 154 in the Cape Town City Council was relatively negligible.

A statement from the DA’s Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela also took a deliberately neutral tone.

The DA notes the resignation of five councillors from the City of Cape Town caucus,” Madikizela said.

We will await a full report from our caucus leadership in the City. We wish them luck in their future endeavours.”

Proceedings within the City Council had yet to resume at time of writing. Before an adjournment to allow political parties to caucus, Speaker Dirk Smit announced his intention to begin discussing the Bowmans report at 3.30pm.

That section of the meeting is scheduled to take place behind closed doors – although ANC councillors earlier protested that in the interests of transparency, the sitting should be open to the media. Smit said he would make a determination on the matter when the time came.

Either way, Thursday was shaping up to be a long day for the DA. DM