The sad tale of Patricia and the DA…

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. File photo: ANA

What exactly did Patricia de Lille do to earn the ire of the DA? Is she guilty of corruption, or at the very least turning a blind eye to corruption on her watch, as we are led to believe?

The first attempt to tarnish her happened last year, when the DA’s very own version of Nkandla erupted in October. The ANC’s disingenuous response to the brouhaha notwithstanding, Ms De Lille was accused of benefiting unfairly from security upgrades done at her private home, after a security assessment undertaken by the SAPS, (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?).

In the welter of accusations and counter accusations, there is no clarity as to whether or not the expenditure was irregular. Ms De Lille maintains the auditor general has cleared her of any wrongdoing, but DA provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela swears blind she is lying.

We’ve yet to see any substantiation of either assertion.

Next up was the matter of suspended transport commissioner Melissa Whitehead, who is said – apparently in a Bowman Gilfillan Attorney’s report which the DA chooses to keep confidential – to be “involved in irregular expenditure in relation to payments in the aggregate amount of R43 801 807.06 made to Volvo for 29 bus chassis”. Ms De Lille is alleged to have covered up this perfidy by instructing then City manager, Achmat Ebrahim (who has since resigned), to not report this alleged misconduct to the City council. There is alleged to be more of course, but again, we’ve not yet seen, nor are we ever likely to see, any of these reports.

Ms De Lille was suspended from all party activities in mid-December, after a sub-committee investigation “found sufficient management and governance-related challenges prevalent in the DA’s City of Cape Town caucus, negatively impacting the City’s mandate to govern efficiently”, but she retained her position as executive mayor, and continued to drive the City’s water crisis intervention, but that didn’t last terribly long.

In mid-January, the DA federal executive did what it routinely accuses the ANC of doing – blurring the line between party and state – by ordering the City caucus to hand over leadership of the water crisis response to deputy mayor Ian Nielson and Mayco member Xanthea Limberg. Ms De Lille lost that one in a council vote.

Incapable of making any dirt stick to Ms De Lille, the DA chose to support an ANC motion of no confidence debated in council on Wednesday January 31, but surprise, surprise: the ANC withdrew the motion at the 11th hour, leaving the DA with much-deserved egg all over its increasingly ugly face. It had no option but to table its own motion of no confidence, which as we all know, Ms De Lille survived by a single vote.

It is important to note, that she survived not only because of support from the ANC caucus, but because of support from within her own caucus, which shows how divided the DA is over this matter.

A measure of this division is the resignation of DA caucus chair, Suzette Little, at the end of February, citing claims of victimisation of DA councillors who voted against the DA’s no-confidence motion. In Ms Little’s own words: “It has become clear that the caucus is deeply divided and the events of the last few months also indicate that any form of unity is impossible and the divide is irreparable.”

And this divide is a manifestation of the fissures in the wider DA, replete with clever blacks and conservative whites, as it grapples with a toxic cocktail of ideology, race and gender in the lead-up to its federal congress.

The latest, according to an arbitration hearing judgment by the South African Local Government Bargaining Council, is that Ms De Lille allegedly employed “her circle of friends” in the four powerful positions of area-based directors for the City.

Ms De Lille’s disciplinary hearing – stupidly referred to as a trial by DA troll-in-chief James Selfe, suggesting criminal misconduct – got under way last Tuesday, with her standing accused of contravening the federal constitution of the DA, and bringing the party into disrepute.

In short order, it was mired in technicalities, with one of the panel members, Pogiso Monchusi, recusing himself after an objection by Ms De Lille. She also objected to Sheila Camerer being on the panel, but Ms Camerer stayed put.

Ms De Lille is also determined that the hearing be open to the public and the media, which the DA does not want to allow, which begs the question, why?

Initially postponed while a new panel member is appointed, the latest is that the hearing is indefinitely postponed. Again, why? Perhaps because the DA is struggling to find somebody who is prepared to serve on what has become little other than a disgraceful railroading of Ms De Lille?

Aside from manifold allegations of impropriety, it has also been alleged that Ms De Lille is combative, dictatorial, belittles people, does not give credit where it is due, centralises power, and is generally difficult to work for. Clearly such conduct is unacceptable, but why no action until now?

If this is what she is being done for, in the apparent absence of any substantive proof of her alleged corruption or condonation of corruption, then it should come as little surprise that the DA – which ought to hang its head in collective shame – wants to hear the matter in camera.

The DA is today where the ANC was in 2012: in desperate need of house cleaning, but without the political will to do anything about it. And it is using this war over Ms De Lille’s future as a proxy for fixing its internal shambles.

Meanwhile, the ANC sits back and rubs its hands in glee as the DA opens its mouth to change feet or alternatively shoots itself in the foot with both barrels, all the while haemorrhaging votes in the run-up to the 2019 national election.