ANALYSIS

Patricia de Lille gunning for elections with focus on spatial justice and social media campaigning

By Rebecca Davis 6 February 2019

Former Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and former DA member Brett Herron launche the manifesto for their new political party, Good, 5 February 2019. Photo: Leila Dougan/Daily Maverick

Former Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s Good party is only eight weeks old, and you won’t catch her making any concrete election predictions just yet. But at the party’s manifesto launch in Cape Town on Tuesday, De Lille expressed confidence that Good has what it takes to ‘fix SA’ — with a focus on tackling the problem of South Africa’s racially divided cities.

Let’s cut to the chase. What is unique about Patricia de Lille’s Good party? What is it offering voters that sets it apart from other political parties contesting the upcoming elections?

Asked this question by Daily Maverick at the Good manifesto launch on Tuesday, De Lille responded:

Our unique offering is that we want justice. We want environmental justice, economic justice, social justice and spatial justice.”

The issue of spatial justice, De Lille continued, “has not been addressed by any political party in the last 25 years”.

It makes sense that De Lille would choose this matter as a policy centrepiece. The narrative the former Cape Town mayor has sought to popularise is that when she and City of Cape Town mayoral committee member Brett Herron left the DA in 2018, it was as a result of being sidelined for attempting to address the racially divided design of Cape Town.

The DA has consistently denied that it opposes spatial transformation, while critics have pointed out that De Lille’s tenure as mayor produced very little progress in reversing Cape Town’s apartheid planning.

But De Lille and Herron continue to maintain that they were thwarted in this regard by the DA — and are now free to take the fight forward properly under the umbrella of Good.

We fought a valiant fight in the City of Cape Town to address spatial justice and spatial apartheid, and we did not have the support of the party we were part of at the time,” Herron said on Tuesday.

He rubbished the notion that affordable housing could not be built in central Cape Town due to a lack of available land, saying that he had personally identified 11 suitable pieces of land in the city centre.

Building “inclusive higher density housing” in the centre of South Africa’s cities is a key pillar of the Good manifesto, which rejects the development of “expansive, low-income housing on the city outskirts”.

In general, Good’s policy offerings are aimed firmly at city-dwellers, and future city-dwellers.

Rural South Africa is mentioned just twice in the party’s manifesto: once in the context of the need to expedite rural land reform, and once in the context of creating rural jobs through new environmental management policies.

For the rest, it’s cities, cities, cities. Good has laid out a fair justification for this emphasis: The fact that more than 65% of the South African population is already urbanised. But it is also probably a reflection of a small party’s need to focus limited campaign resources and manpower in constrained areas where it can achieve the greatest bang for its buck.

The emphasis on cities also reflects the history of Herron and De Lille, whose professional experience and reputations are based specifically on the management of the City of Cape Town.

A recent Good statement quoted Harvard Economics Professor Edward Glaeser as saying that “anyone who is interested in the future of Africa’s cities can learn from the wisdom of [Patricia de Lille]”, and cited former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as writing that De Lille’s work provided “a valuable guide to how, with motivated and dynamic leadership, cities can lead the way on the most important issues”.

In this respect, Herron and De Lille appear to be trying to have their cake and eat it: Persuading voters that they deserve credit for the high-functioning aspects of Cape Town during their tenure in city leadership while disavowing the failures.

Another of Good’s major policy positions is that some of the powers and responsibilities of national government should be devolved to towns and cities.

Herron said that some of the powers in question would relate to transport, housing, policing, economic development strategies and climate change mitigation.

Good’s position is that one-size-fits-all national policies on these matters are not suited to the South African reality, where “every town and city has its own unique contributions and challenges”, to quote Herron.

The party also argues that devolving such powers to the municipal level will lead to greater accountability, since local councillors are the only government representatives directly elected by citizens.

The big mistake we make as South Africans is that we cannot put the future and destiny of our country in the hands of 400 people,” De Lille said.

Good is also positioning itself as the only political party in the running for the 2019 elections whose aim is to tackle racism head-on.

We only make a lot of noise when there’s a racial incident,” said De Lille. “That’s not good enough.”

Good’s practical plans to fight racism are, however, a little on the fuzzy side. The party’s manifesto states that it will “not allow racists to speak for us” — a repetition of the slogan used by De Lille to launch an anti-racism campaign as mayor of Cape Town in 2016.

It states that it will “dismantle the remnants of structural inequality, racism and intolerance in our society using the existing Chapter 9 institutions” — although the relevant institutions, such as the South African Human Rights Commission, have often been accused of being effectively toothless.

And “Good will lead the way to a Good South Africa where we all care for one another — united in our diversity”.

When De Lille announced the formation of a new party, it was speculated that she would be targeting the so-called Western Cape “coloured vote” in her campaigning.

But the Good manifesto makes no specialised appeal on the basis of race, and the Good leadership team on display at the manifesto launch — De Lille, Herron and party chairperson Nthabiseng Lephoko — was a picture of racial diversity.

The party has yet to start formally campaigning, however. De Lille, as media-savvy as ever, is rolling out the party’s full electoral offering in staggered press conferences to ensure maximum publicity. Yet to come is the announcement of Good’s provincial premier candidates, after which the election campaign for all nine provinces will be officially launched.

She acknowledged that “many people are worried” about the limited time period available to Good to grow itself into a national electoral contender.

But De Lille said that the party intends to “disrupt the old way of doing election campaigning”, by which she seems to mean that they will rely heavily on social media channels. Good has said that it will focus its campaigning on the youth — a demographic suddenly very popular with South African politicians, judging by the EFF’s lavish promises to students in its manifesto.

We have brought young people in who are very good in technology and the digital space,” she said.

The veteran politician won’t be lured into making any predictions about what share of the vote Good stands to obtain in elections assumed to be scheduled for May.

It’s difficult to gauge now,” De Lille said. DM

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