What did Patricia really do?

The City of Cape Town caucus has supported the motion of no confidence to sack Patricia de Lille as mayor and leader of the DA caucus. File photo: INLSA

The really sad thing about what the DA euphemistically calls “The De Lille Matter”, is that she is beginning to sound like Jacob Zuma.

In a television interview on Sunday night, Ms De Lille recounted her recent interactions with the citizenry, in which she conducted a straw poll of her popularity. “Nobody I spoke to said they had lost confidence in me,” she said, sounding eerily like Jacob Zuma in early February when the efforts of the ANC Top Six to remove him from office proved initially fruitless.

Mr Zuma at the time, asked of the Top Six: “What have I done wrong?”, insisting that he would not step down “because the people still love me”.

The difference between these two equally protracted and embarrassing leadership meltdowns is simply a matter of numbers: whereas the ANC could muster sufficient support for a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly to remove Mr Zuma from office, the DA is unable to do so in the Cape Town City council to remove Ms De Lille from office.

Having tried once before and failed, the DA resorted to a closed caucus meeting during which it debated and passed with a 70% majority, an internal motion of no confidence in Ms De Lille.

All that amounts to is confirmation of what everybody, including Ms De Lille knows: the DA no longer wants her running the show in Cape Town. The party has lost confidence in her leadership, and like it or not, it is time for her to go.

But here’s the thing: she ain’t going quietly, and considering how the DA has handled the matter, the lengths it has gone to in order to undermine her in the eyes of the citizens of Cape Town, why the hell should she?

Mr Zuma insisting he had no idea what he had done wrong was beyond disingenuous. He knew precisely, along with the nation and the world, what he had done wrong. He just didn’t see any of it as “wrong”.

In Ms De Lille’s case, it is less clear cut, which a visit the the DA’s web site will reveal.

The clumsily embarrassing page titled “The Patricia de Lille matter”, is little other than an attempt to bolster the hatchet job the DA is doing on Ms De Lille, because everything it has done thus far to remove her from office has failed.

The page tries but fails to convince the reader that there is a prima facie case for Ms De Lille’s removal from office.

The Steenhuisen commission of inquiry apparently found that Ms De Lille’s leadership style is autocratic and divisive, that she has appointed people loyal to her to key posts, that she has centralised power in her own office, that she has manipulated appointments at senior management level, and that the DA caucus has increasingly lost confidence in her leadership.

Unless Ms De Lille has recently suffered some or other form of mental breakdown which has resulted in a leadership style volte face, it must surely have been known by her colleagues in the DA how she functions as a leader.

All of which begs the question, why has it taken so long for this to become an issue, and why did the DA’s leadership not step in months ago to address the matter?

On the issue of material wrongdoing, extracts from the much vaunted Bowman Gilfillan report do little more than recommend further investigation of possible gross misconduct by Ms De Lille, former municipal manager, Achmat Ebrahim, and various other officials in relation to tender manipulation by former commissioner of transport and urban development, Mellisa Whitehead.

There is more, but here’s the salient part of the quote: “… the city manager, the executive mayor, and possibly a number of other officials may be guilty of inter alia gross misconduct…” The report further urges: “we recommend that the council directs that an investigation be conducted into the failure of the executive mayor to report the matter to council.”

“This investigation has since been extended and is still ongoing,” says the web page, but is silent on what stage that investigation has reached, when it will be concluded, and what its findings might have been.

Make no mistake, if the allegations of misconduct in the Bowman Gilfillan report have any substance, those who stand accused must be held to account, and where criminal prosecution is indicated, it must be vigorously pursued.

Trouble is, until that “ongoing investigation” is concluded, all we have is a lot of ifs, ands, buts and maybes, which sounds alarmingly like a clumsily handled hatchet job to get rid of somebody whose usefulness has come to an end.

Inasmuch as the ANC could only unseat Mr Zuma by a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly if he refused to step down, the DA also cannot remove Ms De Lille by any other means, and that it has tried, and embarrassingly, failed to do.

The DA caucus’ motion of no confidence in Ms De Lille, equates to an ANC NEC motion of no confidence in Mr Zuma. neither of which have a shred of legal weight in removing either of them from office.

Just like Mr Zuma lifted his middle finger to the ANC in the closing stages of his presidency, Ms De Lille is deservedly doing the same to the DA, because she has nothing left to lose.

Clearly, there is more to this than has been made public, and in time, hopefully, that backstory will emerge.

When it does, it will embarrass the DA even more than it has already embarrassed itself.