On Sunday, Patricia de Lille will probably know if she needs to come in to work on Monday as the Mayor of Cape Town, after the DA’s federal executive committee meets to discuss several allegations against her.
While the story has received considerable interest from the media, claims of politicking and sinister motives behind the allegations against her have somewhat confused the issue. The DA has done very little to clear this up in the public mind, but there might be more to it than poor communication.
At the heart of the story are two reports. The first was put together by the DA’s chief whip, John Steenhuisen, after relations in the City Council soured, leading to allegations of, amongst other things, the misuse of funds and intimidation against De Lille. The report is an internal party report and focuses on tensions and political management in the City of Cape Town.
The second report was put together by the firm Bowman Gilfillan, at the request of the City Council, into allegations of tender irregularities. The report found that De Lille may be guilty of advising City Manager Achmat Ebrahim that he need not report to the City Council an allegation of misconduct against Melissa Whitehead, the commissioner of the transport and urban development authority.
This second report is the more serious of the two, and whether De Lille will stay or go will ultimately depend on its findings. The quote from the report, which was leaked to the media, that "… the [executive mayor] and possibly a number of other officials may be guilty of inter alia gross misconduct with regard to their failure to report the matter to council as was clearly required" may well be the final nail in her coffin.
But her supporters have been quick to jump to her defence on social media, fanning the conspiracy flames that it is all part of a power play to remove her from office in order to make room for Bonginkosi Madikizela, and so that Alan Winde, Western Cape minister of economic opportunites, coan ultimately become premier of the province in 2019.
De Lille herself went on the offensive and, on Thursday, appeared on several radio and TV programmes to rubbish the claims and plead for fair treatment according to party processes. This despite DA fedex chairperson James Selfe calling on party members to refrain from publicly commenting on the situation.
But De Lille is a seasoned politician and knows how to play the media game. She also went ahead and gave interviews to several major publications and vowed to fight the allegations all the way to the highest court in the country. She might end up having to do so. Party insiders have nonsensed claims of a conspiracy and say the allegations against her are serious and valid.
At the same time, it’s been rumoured for a while now that the mayor has fallen out of favour with the party leadership, and this could be their chance to get rid of her.
Whether it’s a good idea for the party to be drawn into a scandal with a mayor that seems to have considerable public support is a different story. There is also the fact that Cape Town is in the middle of a disastrous drought and can hardly afford uncertainty of this sort at the moment.
As former DA leader Tony Leon said on Wednesday: "We are sitting in the midst of a drought and people want the leadership to focus on the essential task at hand… people need to be reassured."
The DA leadership might be concerned about what firing De Lille could do to the party’s public support, but Cape Town may well be the only city they can afford such a scandal, where ANC support has become negligible.