De Lille shadow looms over DA's 'recall clause' proposal

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. (Brenton Geach, Gallo Images, file)
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. (Brenton Geach, Gallo Images, file)

The Democratic Alliance will this weekend debate a "recall clause" at its federal congress, which some feel could be a dangerous shortcut enabling the party to axe leaders it doesn't want.

The DA will go into its watershed congress on Saturday to elect new leaders and reach several party resolutions.

The "recall clause" is among 105 amendment suggestions. It will make it easier for the party to recall members in government positions if they've "lost the confidence of the party".

READ: Frustrated by defiant De Lille, the DA now wants powers to recall deployees

Some long-time allies of embattled Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille however, say the clause is essentially blowback after the party's failed attempt to remove her in the City of Cape Town council.

DA Cape Town chief whip Shaun August for one, says he is against the clause.

"We cannot design our laws and amendments for certain individuals. I feel the clause is being brought in because of Patricia de Lille and I'm totally against the clause," he told News24 on Thursday.

"There are other mechanisms in the party that can deal with it, but to recall someone and not give them a process to follow, it will not be fair.

"They need to be able to make their case and defend themselves, and if that's the route we take, I cannot agree with it."

'Natural justice must apply'

August agreed there could be other circumstances in which the party wanted to move a member, but if it were on the basis of allegations, then those would need to be proved.

"If there is something you've done wrong, the party's disciplinary processes are quite strong and that is the route we should follow.

"There have been such a lot of allegations against Patricia, but if you look at the charges brought against her, none of that is on the charge sheet.

"If you cannot get rid of someone after that process, then your process is then wrong," said August.

If the party were to recall De Lille before her disciplinary proceedings concluded, for instance, it would be the clearest indication that it was a witch hunt against her, he explained.

READ: DA's race debate a battle to decide what it stands for

Another provincial leader who agreed with August was DA MPL Lennit Max, who is based in the Western Cape legislature.

"If you put charges against someone, you can't say, ‘It's going to take too long’ so [now] you need a recall clause," Max said.

"You can't recall someone based on allegations from people who might have an agenda."

Political parties were not above the law, and they had to apply the rules of natural justice if the case was about allegations, and allow the individual the chance to defend themselves.

"I'm in favour of fairness, and if tomorrow I'm facing the same thing, I want to be treated with fairness."

'Not anything new'

Another former Independent Democrats leader Grant Twigg however, said the clause was not uncommon in political parties.

"It wouldn't be anything new. The ANC and some of the other parties have it as well," he said.

"As the DA, we are basically making sure we are keeping up to the times, and it's fair to the party that, if it needs people elsewhere, it shouldn't be difficult to move people around."

Disciplinary processes should be viewed on their own terms and different to whether the party has lost confidence in an individual, he said.

DA federal council chairperson James Selfe denied that the move was a plan to get rid of De Lille, saying the issue had been on the table before.

He cited the example of Hantam mayor Abrie Fritz, who had ignored the party's disciplinary remedial actions during his tenure after being deemed guilty of inappropriate behaviour, Selfe said.

"And in that instance, we could not remove him."

'Damaging the party's brand'

Selfe however admitted that De Lille's matter has shone a spotlight on the issue.

"Every time issues like this come to the fore, it causes damage to the party. Nobody particularly knew where Hantam was, but everyone knows where Cape Town is.

"So the more high profile the case is, the more damaging it will be."

An individual doesn't necessarily have to have done something wrong to have lost the faith of the party, he continued.

The clause is ultimately designed for people who have either lost the support of their caucus or was found guilty of damaging the party's brand, he said.

"South Africa is a very litigious place at the moment, and anyone who felt their rights were infringed one way or another is likely to take this on review [anyway].

"So we would still have to be very sure of ourselves and justify our actions in irrefutable ways before we take the risk of recalling someone."

In the event the party agrees to a recall clause, its 155-person federal council will decide the fate of a given deployee in "exceptional circumstances".

The DA's congress opens on April 7 and 8.

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