Yellow and goodbye: De Lille quits, but where to now?
Carefully crafted peace treaty ends a 13-month DA civil war. Here are the questions that still need to be answered
Sunday morning was wet but Patricia de Lille was wearing yellow, and it turned out to be a bright, sunshiney day for the DA.
After 13 months of accusations, denials, investigations, hearings, court cases, votes of no-confidence and disciplinary hearings, both sides laid down their political weapons and said they’d had enough.
Sitting alongside each other for the first time in months, De Lille and DA leader Mmusi Maimane said they had struck a peace deal, which means the mayor’s disciplinary hearing will not go ahead this month and she will vacate the mayor’s office on October 31.
Maimane apologised for “a difficult chapter in our history”; De Lille did not. She said she had “cleared her name”; Maimane did not. Maimane said De Lille had led the City of Cape Town since 2011 with distinction “for the most part”; De Lille said she had “grown a lot, learned a lot”.But whatever the remaining points of difference between them, this was clearly the end of a messy sideshow that did neither side any credit and which threatened to drag on too far into the election campaign.
Many questions were left unanswered at the midday media scrum. Where were federal council chairperson James Selfe and his deputy, Natasha Mazzone, who have been at the forefront of the party’s efforts to rid itself of De Lille? Will there be consequences for them? Will De Lille move to another political role in the party? Who will take over as mayor?
Maimane made it clear that he had taken on the role of peacemaker. “A lot has taken place this week,” he said. “I came and intervened and took direct action.”
What had he learnt? “That attempting to resolve political matters in a court process is not helpful.”
The conflict had its roots in the DA’s spectacular election performance in 2016. As its mayoral candidate, De Lille delivered a two-thirds majority and used her mandate to start transforming the City of Cape Town – and accumulating enemies in her own caucus.In July 2017, mayoral committee member JP Smith sent a report to Maimane and Selfe listing 17 complaints about De Lille, ranging from abusive behaviour, intimidation and nepotism, to empire building, poor judgment and irregular property transactions.The following month, the DA federal executive set up a subcommittee chaired by parliamentary chief whip John Steenhuisen. Its brief was to “inquire into tensions that have developed in the City of Cape Town caucus and make recommendations about ways to resolve these tensions ... and any other matter that may arise in the course of the inquiry”.
Steenhuisen’s report, completed in December, said: “It became clear that the mayor is extremely hard-working and dedicated to the city, but that her leadership style has become extremely problematic for the successful functioning of both the administration and her caucus.“The mayor’s response to the submissions made to her reflect an irritation and impatience with the concerns.” Instead of trying to understand the divisions in the caucus, said Steenhuisen, “she chooses to simply dismiss or deny them”.
Steenhuisen warned at the end of his report that the instability in the City of Cape Town posed “a clear and present danger” to the party’s 2019 electoral prospects.
“Unless the party takes decisive action to reverse the current situation, we face the very real prospect of losing significant votes in the next election,” he said.
Clue to her future?
To all intents and purposes his words have been ignored for the past eight months, with Selfe and Mazzone determined to keep digging the hole in which the DA was burying itself.
Perhaps it was the Ipsos poll in July, predicting the DA would get only 28% of votes in the Western Cape next year, that propelled Maimane into action.
DA campaign manager Jonathan Moakes said the results should be ignored, but Maimane cannot have been unaware of De Lille’s fan base, something she referred to on Sunday when she expressed “deep and sincere gratitude to the thousands of people in Cape Town and the rest of the country who have supported me through this very difficult period”.Will she fight alongside Maimane in the DA’s election campaign? That is possibly the most significant unanswered question in Sunday’s carefully crafted peace treaty.
Maimane said the deal “opens the way for her to remain as a member of the DA”. And De Lille said only: “I remain committed to serving the people of our country.”
An unscripted remark may provide a clue to her future. After reading from a prepared statement saying she wanted to continue working for “a better city and country for all South Africans”, De Lille looked up and said she would also focus on building “an alternative to the ANC”.