Newsmaker – Patricia de Lille: ‘Jealousy?makes the?ANC nasty’

2015-01-25 15:00

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“Do they think I fought against apartheid just to reinstall it?” Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille’s voice grows sharp.

We’re chatting in her office on the sixth floor of the city’s Civic Centre and De Lille is living up to her reputation as someone who doesn’t mince words.

A sign on one wall reads: “I prefer to do the talking myself, that way we avoid arguments.” A large campaign poster of her – from her days as the president of the Independent Democrats (ID) – trumpets: “Put criminals in jail, not in government.”

She’s banned air conditioning in her office, and it’s warm.

Seated on a silver-upholstered settee, De Lille is talking about the race storm that followed the ANC’s 103rd birthday celebrations in Cape Town two weeks ago.

The ruling party described the DA-governed Mother City as South Africa’s apartheid capital, an accusation that does not sit well with De Lille.

“Why did the ANC not call Cape Town the apartheid capital when they were governing the province along with the National Party?” she asks.

“They say jealousy makes you nasty, and it’s true in the ANC’s case. The ANC cannot stand the fact that they do not govern here.”

At the ANC’s birthday bash, President Jacob Zuma caused tempers to flare when he announced that South Africa’s trouble started when Jan van Riebeeck docked in Cape Town in 1652.

His comment prompted a Twitter frenzy that reached boiling point when Nelson Mandela’s former assistant, Zelda la Grange, let rip at the president last Saturday, spawning a torrent of criticism.

De Lille insists that “these remnants of our racist past” are not just limited to Cape Town.

She accuses Zuma of deflecting attention from current crises by bringing up the distant past.

“If you consider the history of South Africa, we’ve just emerged from a very sad past of colonialism and apartheid. There’s no way we can reverse in 20 years what’s been developing over hundreds of years.

“I grew up during the apartheid years. I know racism and I know discrimination – and my recollection of that is still as vivid as if it happened yesterday.”

De Lille was born in the Karoo town of Beaufort West on February 17 1951. Her family moved to Stellenbosch in 1969, where her father got a teaching job at Cloetesville Primary School, the town’s local coloured school.

“Growing up, where I went to school was determined by race; where I went to church was determined by race; which shop I could go into, it was determined by race. It’s been a long journey. I understand the history. I was there.”

The mayor relays how, during the June 1976 uprisings – a day after Hector Pieterson was shot and killed in Soweto – another boy, coincidentally also named Hector Pieterson, was killed just two houses away from her family’s home in Stellenbosch.

“I felt I couldn’t sit back and watch what they were doing to our children any more, and that’s why I became politically involved,” says De Lille.

She joined the union movement, was elected to the leadership of the Pan Africanist Movement in 1989 and founded the Independent Democrats in 2003.

In August 2010, De Lille and DA leader Helen Zille announced that their parties were merging. Combined, they scored just less than 60% of the votes in the Western Cape in 2011.

The ID was fully dissolved last year – a move criticised as “selling out” by some of De Lille’s coloured constituents.

Her belief in the DA’s good intentions appears unshakeable.

“We have the best services, the best government. It is the ANC that denies people a better life by worrying more about how many cadres get kickbacks, rather than the mission of government.

“Look at the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. The ANC stopped governing there a long time ago. If that is their promise post-apartheid, then we certainly don’t want any part of it.

“The ANC doesn’t have the power to make me feel bad. I am also of darker skin and the ANC is certainly not speaking on my behalf.

“I know what I’ve done and what I’ve suffered, and I don’t need its validation.”

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