IN DEPTH: Unraveling the City of Cape Town's looming implosion

2017-12-15 16:21
City of Cape Town logo. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

City of Cape Town logo. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The City of Cape Town could be on the brink of a total meltdown as allegations between top staffers - which surfaced through recent investigations, documents and leaks - have revealed just how fragmented its leadership is.

Late on Thursday, the Democratic Alliance announced that changes could be made to the city's leadership if allegations against officials were found to be true.

This means that, among others, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille's days could be numbered.

On Thursday, it was also announced that De Lille would be suspended from party activities - pending investigations - and that the federal executive had asked her to give reasons why she should not resign as mayor.

READ: De Lille suspended from party activities

De Lille on Thursday told News24 that she had been given until Monday, December 18, to respond to a slew of allegations against her.

The DA also announced on Thursday that its federal executive had found that there were "governance-related challenges" in its Cape Town caucus.

Tensions and extreme mistrust have surfaced, as the city is grappling with the worst drought in more than a hundred years.

Deepening cracks

The cracks within the city's top tier of staffers started showing over the last few months, and quickly deepened.

Serious claims and counterclaims were exchanged between officials and resulted in several public spats, as well as officials seeking legal advice against the alleged actions of their own colleagues.

The extent of mistrust between senior staffers started reaching the public domain nearly three months ago.

On September 29, News24 reported on a document containing scathing claims about De Lille.

This was also roughly the time when it emerged that De Lille had ordered the shutting down of the city's special investigations unit.

The unit had been overseen by mayoral committee member for safety, security and social services, JP Smith.

He had made a submission, in a document dated August 20, about De Lille's order to have the unit shut down.

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Murder, irregularity claims surface after De Lille 'shuts down' City of Cape Town investigative unit

In it, Smith did not directly make accusations against De Lille, but said claims and rumours had been heard from others.

His submission contained shocking claims that some councillors may have been involved in a murder and that building done at De Lille’s home may not have been legal.

Smith, in the submission, detailed how he believed De Lille had gone behind his back in shutting down the anti-crime unit, and then ignored him when he tried to find out about the matter.

'Dragging my name through the mud'

De Lille, in a press statement issued on October 2, hit back at Smith.

"JP Smith wants to play cowboys and crooks by releasing all kinds of statements that the Metro Police is responsible for fighting crime," she said.

"JP Smith is dragging my name through the mud for the sake of sensationalism."

The next day, on October 3, the DA placed De Lille and Smith on special leave from party activities in the Cape metropole.

Sub-committee probe

A sub-committee, convened by DA leader Mmusi Maimane, and headed by parliamentary whip John Steenhuisen, was established by the DA's federal executive to investigate tensions in the city.

This sub-committee started its hearings the same day as De Lille and Smith were placed on the special leave.

On Thursday, it was announced that the sub-committee had completed its work.

Smear campaign and espionage claims

At the beginning of November, Smith told News24 that he believed he was the target of an extreme smear campaign.

He had said the campaign against him had started on August 24 - this was four days after he made his submission about the special investigations unit.

Smith said the smear campaign involved individuals apparently registering his details with substance abuse facilities so it appeared he needed help for drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.

He also believed his private residence in Hout Bay - which he co-owns, and where his parents stay with him - had been the target of espionage.

"I have received death threats in the past. I take the exposure of my security seriously," Smith said.

Special confidential meeting

On November 21, a special confidential meeting was held by the city.

During this meeting, it was unanimously resolved that the city's performance audit committee be instructed to appoint an independent investigator to probe allegations against the executive director of De Lille's office, Craig Kesson, city manager Achmat Ebrahim, and Melissa Whitehead, the commissioner of the transport and urban development authority.

The trio were given a week to say why they should not be placed on precautionary suspension. It was later decided that they would not be suspended.

A separate independent investigation into allegations of wrongdoing, including those of maladministration, within the city is still being conducted.

The deadline for this probe is December 29. A full report will then be presented to the council.

Open spat

This process involving the special council meeting resulted in several serious claims surfacing.

Documents relating to the confidential meeting were made public by the city afterward, as they wanted to be transparent.

In an affidavit made public, Kesson alleged that De Lille had planned to publicly discredit a senior city staffer who questioned alleged tender irregularities. 

READ: 'Bullying' De Lille wanted alleged tender irregularity report to 'go away' - executive director

He also claimed De Lille had asked that a report into a possible R43m loss regarding another tender be made to "go away".

De Lille had hit back via a press statement on November 29, saying that his "false" disclosures could not be viewed as the actions of a whistleblower, but were instead a criminal offence.

Kesson also made allegations against Ebrahim and Whitehead, and Ebrahim has made claims against Kesson.

Taking sides

On November 20, apparent factions within the city then started becoming apparent.

The DA's federal council chairperson, James Selfe, issued a press statement in which he labelled a claim by De Lille that there were attempts within the party to undermine spatial integration as "nonsense".

"Such narratives are being deliberately crafted to muddy the waters for the investigation," Selfe said.

"They are nothing more than purposeful misdirection, and should be seen as such."

However, in an affidavit which became public on December 5, transport and urban development mayoral committee member Brett Herron sided with De Lille on the spatial integration matter.

His affidavit said: "I… wish to confirm that the new spatial development transformation policies, of which I am involved, as more fully detailed below, have received much resistance and there are several people who have expressed their opposition thereto and accordingly I do not believe the mayor's comments to be without merit."

Kesson's affidavit had also made claims against Herron, which resulted in Herron also making an affidavit.

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

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