It's DA v De Lille: The end of the affair? (Don't bet on it)

Patricia de Lille is fighting to keep her job as mayor of Cape Town. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)
Patricia de Lille is fighting to keep her job as mayor of Cape Town. (Jaco Marais, Gallo Images, Netwerk24, file)

It's been a whirlwind few days for those following the Patricia de Lille saga.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the former/current/possibly returning Cape Town mayor head to the high court on Friday for some much-needed clarity on her messy ousting from the party on Tuesday.

To be fair, the writing's been on the wall for some time for De Lille. We all knew this day was coming.

But the DA's use of a party clause in her removal not mentioned before this past week, its “cessation clause”, has made things a little more interesting.

To be clear, the parties will not be arguing the merits of the DA's decision to cease De Lille's membership today.

Rather, De Lille wants the court to grant her urgent relief: to suspend the party's decision to cease her membership for now (and by extension her position as mayor), so that they can argue the full merits of her supposed "self-resignation" on another date, while De Lille returns to her seat.

This is essentially round one in what will be a long and protracted legal drama.

The court's timely inclusion in this process will no doubt be a welcome addition to the prevailing sense of "huh?" Capetonians have been feeling these last three days.

Observers and journalists may even be able to stop asking, "So wait, who exactly is the mayor again?" – at least for now.

Technically speaking, there is a vacant seat in the council, as city manager Lungelo Mbandazayo has already notified the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of De Lille's removal from the party.

However, the IEC has indicated it will not advertise the vacant seat just yet, as it has opted to comply with the request served on it to wait until after the court rules.

That vacant seat therefore is waiting to graduate to a vacancy. Confusing right? Yeah, we know.

Ian Neilson is currently the acting mayor of the city, and if the court rules in the DA's favour, he will remain as such until the Cape Town city council calls a special sitting to elect a permanent one.

The DA has however said it is open to the idea of not filling the vacancy permanently for a few weeks, to allow the parties to duke it out in court until finality is reached.

Thus, it's up to our nation's courts once again to step in and give our politicians some much-needed guidance on issues that, probably, should never have reached it in the first place.

There's a good chance the court will dismiss De Lille's request for urgent relief. While the merits of her removal will inevitably be heard soon, a request for potential reinstatement now would be "turning back the clock", the DA have argued.

The DA has removed her, and has made it clear it no longer wants her. "The horse has bolted," the party argued in its papers. Let’s rather take our time and argue the merits in full another time, essentially.

However, if the court finds De Lille's arguments around irreparable harm, potential prejudice and her lack of an alternative remedy compelling enough, we could see her returning to her position sooner than we thought, for now.

Whichever way the court decides, rest assured that today's legal sparring is only just the beginning, and the messy mudslinging will continue in the coming weeks.

De Lille has flown in the big names, with the EFF's Advocate Dali Mpofu joining her team once again.

A failure to convince the high court today, and then again in the coming weeks of her case, will no doubt see the issue taken to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, ensuring the saga will have the bitter end it's destined for.

The DA may not want to look any further than that, because somewhere thereafter lies the 2019 general elections.

And the closer that date approaches, the worse a messy and protracted legal battle with their former mayor becomes for the party.

At least Capetonians - the biggest casualties of this governance and public relations failure - will be granted their request for some relief of their own today.

- Paul Herman is a journalist at News24. He covers Parliament and politics.

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.

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