Opinionista Mmusi Maimane 22 January 2018

DA and De Lille: Values only count when they are tested

The well-being of Cape Town residents matters a great deal to the DA, and I want to assure South Africans that we are dealing with concerns surrounding Mayor Patricia De Lille’s leadership as swiftly and fairly as possible. We want to achieve the outcome that is best for the people of Cape Town and we remain committed to clean, accountable government. We are extremely mindful of the need to respond effectively and decisively to the Cape drought.

Our values as a party only really count when they are put to the test. Values are easy when everyone agrees and when they are easily applied. But they are hard when the party faces a painful test. Despite the difficulty, the DA will remain true to its values, come what may.

The laziest analysis in this regard comes from those who claim the DA is no different to the ANC now that we’ve also had a big, public scandal. The differences should be plain to all.

The ANC has (over and above all its other sins) consistently acted to ignore the corruption that is putrefying it from the inside, protecting the guilty and sweeping evidence and information under the carpet. This has resulted in a party that is literally split down the middle, and a state that is captured by private rent seekers.

This is precisely the opposite of what is happening in Cape Town. We are throwing open the doors and windows to shine light on the situation in the City, because we want to act speedily and forcefully to stop dangerous trends before they gather a momentum of their own. Far from protecting the implicated, we have demonstrated that no one in the DA is “untouchable”, and that all are equally accountable to the party and to the law. We genuinely believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”, not just as a slogan, but as a value.

The public looks to the DA as a model of clean, accountable government that will act firmly against corruption, uphold equality before the law, and deliver better services than any other government in South Africa. We will not betray their trust, even if that means taking very difficult and painful action against our own colleagues. We hold the ANC to a high standard – and we have been relentless in doing so. We must therefore hold ourselves to the same standard, if not an even higher one.

The DA leadership first became aware of problems in the City’s DA caucus in August 2017, when serious allegations of poor leadership, maladministration and governance failures were levelled against De Lille and other senior councillors.

We responded by initiating an internal investigation into political tensions, headed by John Steenhuisen; and by ensuring that the City instituted an independent, external investigation by legal firm Bowman Gilfillan.

The first internal investigation concluded that while De Lille is extremely hard-working, a great many DA councillors, City staff and colleagues find her leadership style to be obstructive to the successful functioning of both the City administration and the DA caucus, undermining service delivery in Cape Town. A number of specific, serious allegations were made against her, and the mayor was given extended time to reply to these in full.

The Bowman Gilfillan report concluded that De Lille behaved and acted in a manner that constitutes gross misconduct and dereliction of duty, including her apparent role in actively covering up serious governance failures.

Last Sunday, 14 January, the DA’s Federal Executive (our highest decision-making body) considered the findings of both reports and took a decision to formally charge De Lille.

Unfortunately, this decision will draw out the process of achieving resolution. But as a DA public representative who has made a huge positive contribution to the DA and SA, we must give Mayor De Lille further opportunity to fully respond to all allegations levelled against her, which are detailed in my statement released after the meeting.

I do not doubt De Lille’s commitment to the greater good. She has played a central, positive role in both SA and the DA. She is much loved within and beyond the DA. She deserves, and will forever have, our respect and gratitude. But central as she has been to the DA and SA’s fortunes, no one is above the party and its constitution, and no individual’s interests are above those of the general public.

It has been painful to learn of the dysfunction and resentment that has built up against her in the Cape Town City council. This is the very worst possible time for a problem such as this to arise, in the midst of a major drought crisis and ahead of the 2019 national election. But for the sake of Capetonians and South Africans, the DA is fully prepared to take the necessary action to restore order and functionality to Cape Town Council’s DA caucus.

The DA owes its loyalty, above all else, to the voters. Their interests must, do, and always will come first.

Some commentators in the media and on social media feel the DA should not be involved in a dispute over De Lille while there is a drought crisis. But the DA cannot ignore serious allegations for this reason. The drought could drag on for years. The people of Cape Town need a council that runs efficiently and effectively, even more so because of this crisis.

The true measure of a political party is how it responds to challenges such as this. The DA cannot exercise complete control over how public representatives conduct themselves. No political party can. But we can respond by putting the public interest ahead of party interests and this is what we will do. DM

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