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De Lille fallout: The DA slides down a rabbit hole


Judith February is executive officer: Freedom Under Law.

We as the citizens of Cape Town seem to be quite secondary in this fight to remove Patricia de Lille from her position as mayor. It’s an almighty process mess. The DA is finding out that, surprise, surprise, governing is hard.

It is trite to say that governance in the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town has always been fraught.

The city and the province can often feel like a country apart. Its politics, however, much like anywhere else have attracted the controversial, the reprobates, the dishonest, the opportunist and the do-gooder alike.

It has a particular penchant for the opportunistic – who can forget Gerald Morkel as Western Cape Premier and Mayor, styling himself as ‘the Kennedy of the Cape’, or former banjo-playing disrupter, mayor and one-time Premier Peter Marais? And then the “Home for all” which former Premier Ebrahim Rasool tried to craft amid the “brown envelope” scandal in which journalists were allegedly paid to write “sunshine” stories about Rasool, the over-payment on his salary which he “did not notice” and then the shadow of Dubai World hanging over the proposed redevelopment of the Sea Point promenade.

We have long memories in these parts, as we should.

In the last months we have witnessed the passing show that is the bitter battle between Cape Town Mayor, Patricia de Lille and the DA. It’s a passing show because we as the citizens of Cape Town seem to be quite secondary in this fight to remove De Lille from her position, given what the DA says are allegations of serious corruption against her.

There seem to be an awful lot of “facts” floating around in the media. All the parties to the dispute have used social media to litigate their case in public. As Helen Zille might attest to (might), social media can do more harm than good when trying to make a nuanced argument.

In a nutshell it seems to be that the DA is saying De Lille is corrupt and has been part of very serious maladministration. She denies this. A report was commissioned by law firm Bowmans regarding maladministration and corruption. In addition, a sub-committee headed by the DA’s John Steenhuisen was also charged to look into these matters. The process then became mired in technicalities and these processes appear stalled. According to DA deputy chairperson, Natasha Mazzone, the investigations into corruption are “ongoing”. Yet, in the meantime, the DA had used its political power to move De Lille out of her position through changes to clauses of its constitution and through a motion of no confidence. In that motion, 70% of the DA caucus voted against De Lille. She survived thanks to the ANC and some DA caucus members.

The latest episode in this political soap opera is the interim order granted to De Lille this week that she should be reinstated as mayor and DA member, pending the court review process on 25 May. The DA’s response to Judge Gamble’s ruling was that De Lille’s powers were merely “ceremonial” and they would not allow her to exercise executive authority until the final outcome. Surely that is disingenuous at best and possibly in breach of Gamble’s order that the status quo be “preserved”?

The DA has found itself in a process bungle, to say the least. Salvaging this is going to be hard given De Lille’s trenchant stance. In her statement of 8 May, Mazzone admits that: “‘This has been a confusing time for the citizens of Cape Town‚ for which the DA sincerely apologises.”

But frankly this is not good enough. When the Cape Town water crisis reached its peak, DA leader Musi Maimane sped to Cape Town to deal with the matter. He then spent some time handing out buckets in a leafy Cape Town suburb but had the sense to make a speech on the Cape Flats. From the inside looking in, one might then have asked, in what capacity did Maimane swoop into the city? On what constitutional basis was he, as an ordinary MP, taking over this crisis?

It seemed like an obvious PR exercise with very little substance. Curiously enough Xanthea Limberg, the equally insipid Mayco member for informal settlements, water and waste, remained on the committee tasked by Maimane to deal with the water crisis as a matter of urgency. Somehow, Limberg has escaped all manner of accounting for the response to the crisis despite being the responsible Mayco member. So, it is no surprise then that she has emerged as a key opponent of De Lille’s.

Mazzone was left to provide “feedback” (sic) in the 8 May statement. Maimane did not then feel the need to swoop back in. From post-Freedom Day media reports he seems to be embroiled in other internal party challenges.

It’s an almighty process mess. If there has been corruption, then let the process of uncovering it and proving allegations be taken to its full and logical conclusion. And proper processes should govern that. The DA appears surprised that De Lille is taking process points. Unfortunately the rule of law demands that – whether it’s the DA or the ANC who is in control. Mazzone has said they wish to continue delivering ‘excellent’ services to the people of Cape Town. Some may argue about the ‘excellent’ bit as we see a City in chaos and politicians fighting about a mayoral chain. But we also see our City choking in litter, arrogant DA councilors listening to the public even less in many wards and spatial development and other urgent redress issues being left to fester on the sidelines of political drama. The situation is out of control and if the ANC in this province was not so deeply and desperately dysfunctional, the DA would – and should- pay for this mess at the polls next year. Speaking of the ANC, Ebrahim Rasool and ANC Provincial secretary-general, Faiez Jacobs held a joint press conference recently. Rasool, in from the Washington DC ambassadorial cold, will be leading the ANC’s 2019 election campaign, we were told. We should not forget the ‘brown envelope’ scandal. But the ANC has never really followed its conscience in the face of a political opportunity. Rasool or not, it will be a tough ask to beat the DA in this province despite the current shambles. The DA, in its mishandling of the De Lille issue has probably made that calculation already given its usually effective internal polling and research.

The De Lille matter has also, perhaps inadvertently, brought to the fore the DA’s uncomfortable relationship with race and the whispers that it is trying to remove De Lille because the party, despite its attempts to change is still being run by a small cabal of white men. It’s probably rather more complex than that but in politics perception is everything.

Mazzone has said that the DA “needs to rebuild trust” with citizens and admitted that: “It is no secret that the DA has suffered immeasurable damage because of this issue due to the lack of information presented to our voters.”

On that she is right. What is playing out in the city is a symptom of a deeper malaise and of a party which has lost its way pretty quickly.

What the DA seems to be finding out is that, surprise, surprise, governing is hard. Slinging insults at the ANC and calling for due process and accountability is easy when you’re not in power. When the shoe is on the other foot, well then, it’s a different story.

In the De Lille matter they have sought to remove her politically when the legal process was delayed. That has taken the party down a rabbit hole and it’s going to take a lot of digging to get out of it. DM


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