Opinionista Simon Grindrod 9 February 2018

In defence of Patricia de Lille: Let’s unpack the allegations

South Africans need to start seriously questioning both the motives, tactics and character of the DA as a result of the Patricia de Lille affair. It is important to question why a çorruption buster like De Lille is suddenly portrayed as corrupt by her party.

In October 2002, then party chairperson and now British PM, Theresa May, took the stage at the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth and issued a stern warning. She told the party faithful that it was time for the party to face up to the “uncomfortable truth” about the way it was being perceived by the public as the “nasty party”.

Yah boo, Punch and Judy, call it what you will, the public is sick of it.” She called for an end to the self-destructive tendencies of her party by demanding “no more glib moralising. No more hypocritical finger wagging”.

Given South Africa’s dire need for a credible opposition, it is now also time for DA leader Mmusi Maimane to wake up to the reality that both his own authority, and the proclaimed “values” of his party, are being exposed as baseless with every passing day. The DA is more than ever being perceived as hypocritical and nasty.

Their handling of the De Lille matter is a prime example.

Any reasonable person paying attention will see the DA’s latest “bribery” smear against Patricia de Lille as ridiculous. It is a reflection of the moral degeneration of the official opposition – at a time when a corrupt and incompetent ANC are at their weakest. It is no longer good enough for the DA to justify their own appalling tactics on the basis that the ANC do the same. We know the ANC only too well. We expect better from opposition parties, especially when they profess to have higher standards.

How can anyone seriously believe that a businessman came forward after almost six years to accuse De Lille of soliciting a R5-million bribe? Why did Anthony Faul not report this to SAPS in 2012 as he was obliged to do under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act? Why did he give his complaint directly to the DA, and not SAPS, only 10 days before their vote of no confidence in her? It is implausible. And the facts will show that this is nothing more than an amateurish stitch-up by a desperate party.

De Lille has been treated very badly and deserves to have the fair and transparent hearing afforded to other members under the DA’s own constitution. The disciplinary process announced by Maimane on 14 January now seems to have been conveniently forgotten along with their promise to take no action until all accusations are tested.

South Africans need to start seriously questioning both the motives, tactics and character of the DA as a result of the De Lille affair. It is important to question why a “corruption buster” like De Lille is suddenly portrayed as corrupt by her party.

On 14 March 2011, then DA Leader Helen Zille announced the results of the “fair and open selection process” to choose the party’s mayoral candidate for the Cape Town elections of that year, stating “They were put through a gruelling process. Only one person could emerge from it. And that person is Patricia De Lille.” The chosen candidate went on to deliver a resounding 62% overall majority for the DA, a significant increase on the 42% secured in 2006.

From the moment De Lille joined the party, at first as an MEC in the provincial government, and then as mayoral candidate, the DA machine wisely exercised total control over her diary, her speeches, her statements and other aspects of her political life. She was carefully and successfully choreographed to ensure total alignment with the DA brand. This, of course, would happen with any candidate, but with an independent character like Patricia, it was especially important.

As recently as 2016, incumbent Mayor De Lille was again selected as their candidate for the Metro poll. “The incumbent mayor has been a strong fighter against corruption and has created more jobs for the people of Cape Town,” proclaimed Mr Maimane. This time she led the party to a comfortable two-thirds majority, almost 67% of the vote. The DA celebrated this achievement with a statement: “This is a resounding endorsement of DA governance under Mayor Patricia de Lille.”

It would be ridiculous to suggest De Lille was solely responsible for these significant victories. On the contrary, the DA made sure from the first day of her candidacy that an impressive team of handlers were managing her. Paul Boughey, now DA CEO, was installed as her gatekeeper and Chief of Staff. Ian Nielsen, the Executive Deputy Mayor since 2009, had for many years been embedded as Mayco Member for Finance where he oversaw City budgeting and spending. The DA, understandably, ensured they had absolute control of the finances, policies and messaging of their mayor and her administration.

Indeed, as central party control intensified under Maimane, every decision and media release had to be approved by headquarters to ensure compliance with policy and branding.

It is therefore pertinent to ask where all of these structures were during the processes now being called into question. Decisions were first approved by the party caucus, and ultimately, voted upon by a Full Council meeting before being enacted.

This fact, along with a basic understanding of complex municipal processes, clearly makes a mockery of any suggestion that De Lille in some way acted alone in her decisions. She couldn’t even if she had wanted to. So let us calmly unpack the oft-repeated accusations against De Lille:

1. De Lille was negligent in preventing the Water Crisis

Is the DA asking us to believe that the Executive Deputy Mayor, the Mayco Member for Finance, and every other DA Member of the Mayoral Committee did not know what was happening in their City during the years leading to crisis point? If it is their intention to suddenly pin the blame entirely on the Mayor, they must then explain why the rest of their government did nothing, or were negligent. They can’t have it both ways. The fact that the DA blamed De Lille for a water levy their own Caucus had proposed and approved (in a meeting she was barred from attending) is an example of this contradictory position.

The truth is that every level of government failed to act on the water crisis. The fact that the water issue is now being cited in their motion of no confidence surely means the DA should be calling for a similar motion against the Premier of the Western Cape too. It is implausible to make De Lille a convenient scapegoat for this long foreseen problem.

2. She approved property developments for ‘friends’ and upgraded her home at taxpayers’ expense

It is mischievous to imply that a mayor has the power to unilaterally approve any property development, by-law or policy. We only need to recall the years spent on the Green Point stadium development. Legal challenges, public participation, traffic studies, environmental studies, and a mountain of other regulations. Such applications come to the relevant directorate, then to the relevant portfolio committee, then to Mayco and then to Full Council. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of such processes will understand that it is often many years from application to final approval. The idea that a mayor signs off approvals ad hoc with the stroke of a pen is not credible.

The Auditor-General confirmed that the R140,139.98 spent by the City on security gates and CCTV, as a result of the SAPS security assessment at her home, were above board. The same security assessments and upgrades were carried out at the homes of previous executive mayors.

3. She has ‘too much power’

An executive mayor, under the executive mayoral system, only has those powers delegated to them by council. Any amendment to delegated powers has to be approved by council. It is noteworthy that the DA campaigned against this very system in 2006 with candidate Zille stating, in February 2006, that it gave “frightening and enormous power” to a mayor. While the DA changed their mind when they took office, I agree that the executive committee system is far more inclusive – and the mayor becomes largely ceremonial.

4. She appointed Loyiso Nkohla to her office in an irregular way

The position of “stakeholder relations” in the office of the mayor is a long-standing political appointment. Indeed, Mayor Zille appointed Bonginkosi Madikizela, now MEC and Western Cape DA Leader, to the exact same position in 2006. Madikizela was also an ANC activist who, as Zille recounts in her autobiography, had previously been part of violent ANC campaigns to “smash up” her DA public meetings in Khayelitsha. Her book recounts the violence unleashed by Madikizela and his fellow ANC members on those occasions.

5. She is ‘difficult’ to work with/not ‘popular’ with City employees

Patricia de Lille, as the whole of South Africa has known for many years, is feisty and outspoken. She does not suffer fools gladly and has strong opinions. This is why we had the Arms Deal exposed, and why many other shady happenings were blown wide open by her. A mayor is there to lead, and unpopular decisions are part of the job. To suggest she should leave office based on corridor mutterings is absurd. There are 22,000 City employees who are also voters. Which ones are ‘unhappy’? Their preferences for the role of mayor can be expressed alongside every other citizen at the elections.

6. She is responsible for an ‘unqualified with conditions’ audit opinion from the Auditor General

The Auditor General issued an “unqualified with conditions” audit opinion for the last financial year. The Auditor General also issued the exact same opinion for the Western Cape government as a result of similar queries in their Human Settlements Department. While not ideal, it is far less serious than the full “qualified” audit opinion issued to Nelson Mandela Bay, or the “unqualified with findings” audit opinions issued to both the Johannesburg and Tshwane City governments. All run by DA mayors.

7. The DA Caucus ‘want her out’

Some of them. Eighty-four DA Councillors out a total of 154 on the DA benches voted for the motion of no confidence in De Lille last time. They are primarily supporting the new provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela and his deputy chairperson, JP Smith, who were elected in October 2017. It is noteworthy that JP Smith also became deputy chairperson of the metro caucus at that election the previous month. Naturally, as the new party leadership, they wish to take the top jobs. To suggest otherwise would be absurd. However, there is a time and process for such ambitions.

It will be interesting to see if the DA impose a 3-Line Whip and force their councillors to vote for the motion of no confidence. Or will they give their councillors a free vote and a secret ballot as they demanded happen in the most recent no confidence vote against Zuma in Parliament?

8. De Lille has brought the DA into disrepute

This entire power-play has exposed the very worse of ugly factional politics as factions attempt to seize positions. It was always there, but better disguised than on this occasion. It was unrealistic to expect De Lille not to defend herself from a campaign of ongoing accusations, leaks and smears. The party has definitely been brought into disrepute – and all those, including De Lille, deserve to be subject to a fair and transparent hearing to establish the facts.

9. MyCiTi bus/ cover-up/ losses irregularities

The City commissioned Bowman Gilfillan attorneys to provide a report on the matter which was tabled before Full Council last month. De Lille has contested several factual errors in the report. Council has established an investigation and suspended the Transport Commissioner pending a finding. The City Manager resigned following publication of the report. It is fair that the City process is allowed to conclude in terms of the procedures.

As of today, no formal charges of corruption have been laid against Patricia de Lille, not even by the DA. The disciplinary hearing process announced by the DA on 14 January must be allowed to take its rightful course. Accusations must be tested. Allegations must be investigated. She has a right to have a properly constituted disciplinary hearing, just as Helen Zille and others leaders did.

Should the DA proceed with their vote of no confidence against De Lille prematurely, it will be a very clear indication that they were unable to prove their case against her in a disciplinary hearing.

It is not only the values and credibility of Patricia De Lille under the spotlight, it is also the DA’s own values and stated commitment to transparency, fairness and equality. DM

Simon Grindrod is the former Deputy Leader of the Independent Democrats and writes in his personal capacity

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