Guest Column

In defence of Patricia de Lille

2017-10-05 13:12
(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

(Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Simon Grindrod

Over thirteen years ago, in a previous life, Patricia de Lille and I went canvassing for votes in a shopping center in Milnerton on a busy Saturday morning. Patricia, by then known for exposing the corrupt arms-deal, was generating interest in the ID, her new social democratic alternative to the DA and ANC. To be fair, we did not anticipate an avalanche of votes in this constituency. However, as we walked through the mall handing out flyers, Patricia was greeted warmly by a wide range of people, including an elderly lady in a twin-set and pearls. 

'Patricia, I wanted to say how much I respect your strength and wish you luck in the elections', and as she held Pat's hand added, 'and I will definitely be asking my char to vote for you'.

The lady obviously thought SA politics needed an outspoken voice and was happy for Patricia to do so, as long as it didn't upset the status quo too much. It was an example of the fact that Patricia was valued, but would never truly be accepted by the conventional political establishment. I don't think she ever wanted to be. It remains her greatest appeal.

Since the formation of the Cape Town uni-city 17 years ago, we have witnessed a revolving door of mayors to an almost comical degree. For example, the Morkel and Marais show was memorably damaging, if not entertaining. Indeed, until recently, the average 'life expectancy' of a Cape Town mayor had been only slightly higher than that of a rookie U.S Marine in the Vietnam war. Many a political career has fallen flat on the steps of the civic center. 

Ever since the very first uni-city mayor resigned over allegations of surfing porn in his office, power-plays and dirty tricks are now expected and even accepted. Spying, subterfuge, character assassination, factions and scandals are the hallmark of our City politics. Not even the adoption of the executive mayoralty system could stop the infighting, nor protect the office holder. 

Amazingly, it has not been the opposition claiming these scalps, the blood has mainly been drawn through Blue-on-Blue factional warfare. The old Nats, the old DP, the new DA, the old ID and several others. It has never been dealt with if they are honest about it. 

The DA don't publicly throw chairs at each other, but they are certainly skilled in the tactics of undermining their very own colleagues. Innuendo, whispering campaigns and carefully leaked untruths are far more effective than a full frontal assault. I would rather get a chair on my head from someone I can see, than an endless drip of poison from faceless people in the shadows of my own party.

Patricia De Lille is the first mayor to serve a full-term, and be re-elected to office, since the formation of the uni-city 17 years ago. It is quite an achievement given the turbulence of prior years.

We would therefore think this is a welcome development, a period of continuity and stability for citizens. However, it seems the DA cannot help themselves when it comes to the black arts of taking out their own. Having almost prematurely removed a successful sitting premier earlier this year, they now seem hellbent on removing a sitting executive mayor too. What is wrong with these people? 

The manic attempts by national leadership to exert total control from the center continues to result in overreaction instead of mature dialogue. Helen Zille, to her credit, was seasoned enough to realise that provinces should be allowed, within reason, to resolve their own internal differences without politburo style directives from national office. Obviously, having two centers of power adds to the mix.

How has it come to the sorry state of affairs where citizens have to see their mayor and a senior member of her administration put on 'special leave' a week before a critical provincial party election?

I am not sure what 'special leave' means when it comes to a mayor but they seem to be making it up as they go along.

It will be interesting to see if the special committee established by the DA, under chairmanship of John Steenhuisen MP, will report its findings before the provincial elective congress this weekend.

The allegations made against De Lille by Alderman JP Smith are both murky and vague. He had apparently authored a memo behind his mayor's back (leaked to the media) suggesting some individuals in the City may, or may not, have a gripe with the her about possible security upgrades at her house, although he is not sure about it, and had not heard anything about it previously. He admits he has seen no proof of anything untoward. It is as clear as mud.

That is the extent of the matter, the smoking gun, for which the mayor and himself are on now put on gardening leave like naughty kids while the ANC squeal with delight and the DA caucus implodes.

Make no mistake, JP Smith is a very hard working, committed and passionate politician. He represents his constituents extremely well. It is no coincidence that Alderman Smith has declared himself a candidate for the position of deputy provincial leader in the imminent elections, having secured the position of deputy metro chair only a short time ago. It is also no secret he is vehemently anti-De Lille. There is a lot of resentment remaining from the days of the ID and DA merger. Scores are being settled. The question is, at what cost?

So what, exactly, are the offenses for which the DA have suspended their mayor (and Alderman Smith)?

The issue of unspecified and mysterious renovations at her Pinelands home were this week categorically clarified by an official statement from the City of Cape Town. The security equipment was provided within the legislative framework and declared completely above board. I would not be surprised if such routine security apparatus was also installed at the private homes of previous executive mayors - without any fuss.

The 'shutting down' of the City's SUI never happened. It is still in operation, as even a cursory review of statements put out by the Safety and Security Directorate reveal. It is, however, now operating within a clearly defined, legal framework. Was the mayor expected not to act when it was brought to light that the Unit was exceeding its legal mandate? She would certainly have been accused of negligence in not doing so had the situation resulted in negative consequences.

Understandably, Alderman Smith did not take kindly to any curtailment of his powers. Nobody would. Yet, councillors need to be very wary of overstepping the line between 'hands-on' involvement and willful political interference in the workings of the civil service. 

It is far too lazy, yet politically irresistable, to now equate the two issues and insinuate that De Lille unilaterally 'shut down' the special unit to prevent exposure of her very own corrupt Nkandla estate.

By the way, with 23 years of elected office behind her, I doubt Patricia needs to fleece the taxpayer for a few new bathroom tiles. She is not prone to conventional political spin, but she is definitely very aware not to give her opponents any stick with which to beat her. It just doesn't add up. It's nonsense.

The other 'charges' presumably are that she is too brash, outspoken and ''rubs people up the wrong way". The electorate supported her entirely because she was not afraid to speak her mind. She has never been a conventional politician. In this respect, she faces the same problem as Helen Zille - confident and strong women are seen as 'problematic', yet confident and strong men are 'decisive'.

Mayor De Lille is also now being held personally responsible for inflicting upon the Western Cape the severest drought in decades, a drought that was foreseen over 20 years ago by experts who warned previous administrations that action needed to be taken. It is right that any incumbent be held accountable for current actions taken to mitigate the crisis, but entirely unfair to blame one individual for the negligence of previous administrations, at every level, in taking pro-active steps to prevent it.

Yet, the DA wolves continue to circle, awaiting their opportunity to deliver the fatal blow to the lady whose face they once happily plastered on glossy posters as evidence of DA diversity. They proudly boasted of her re-election and her increased majority in 2016.

Patricia was good enough for that purpose back then, yet seemingly not good enough to merit the support of her party leaders now. How difficult could it have been to determine the facts of this case weeks ago? If the mayor is guilty of corruption, she should go. If not, her detractors should either put up, or shut up.

The DA should either back her, or sack her. This ongoing chaos is totally unnecessary.

In 2010, when the ID merged with the DA, a veteran ANC politician commented that Patricia was now 'riding on the back of a tiger that would finish her'. Other smaller parties are also beginning to discover what the DA actually means by 'coalition' government. 

Whatever we may think of Aunty Pat, the lady surely deserves better than this shoddy treatment on the basis of some spurious allegations raised by a rival faction ahead of a bitterly fought elective congress. 

The local politicians in Cape Town may not know any better, but the national leadership of the DA certainly should.

I have known Patricia de Lille, both in and out of formal politics, for many years. Having been out of active politics for a decade, I write this in my personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    patricia de lille  |  jp smith  |  sa politics  |  da
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