Patricia de Lille is in the dog box. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Patricia de Lille is in the dog box. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

While the political focus was trained on the ANC’s succession race, the battles on various fronts in the official opposition Democratic Alliance have been mounting.

The DA will have to dig deep to convince the electorate that it is capable of governing Gauteng — its prime target in the 2019 national elections — when it has battled to contain the fires in various municipalities it controls.

This is particularly as the party’s messaging has centred on the promise of good and corruption-free governance; but in the past week alone it announced disciplinary action against a mayor for maladministration and removed a finance MMC over allegations of corruption.

The party is choking in governance in two metros it won at the 2016 local government elections, as well as in its flagship, the City of Cape Town.

It is putting out fires in Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg, and has lost the running of Mogale City in Gauteng. In Mogale City, the DA-led coalition failed to hold onto a slight majority, in part due to infighting.

Its coalition government in the Metsimaholo municipality in the Free State also collapsed after it failed to pass the budget, and the municipality had to be placed under administration. The problem stemmed from a coalition partner decamping to the ANC.

WHAT IT MEANS:

The DA's promise of good governance in areas it controls is proving to be a burden

It has also yet to deal with reports six months ago on a lavish party, which was undeclared, thrown by its then acting leader in the Western Cape, Bonginkosi Madikizela.

In October, Madikizela was elected to the post permanently.

Insiders say the matter has not been dealt with by the leadership, despite the speed with which the conduct of other leaders was investigated.

On Sunday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced that Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille has been formally charged for alleged misconduct and bringing the party into disrepute.

This followed her suspension, announced on December 15, a day before the start of the ANC’s national conference.

De Lille is to face a disciplinary process undertaken by the party’s federal legal commission, which could take up to 60 days.

While De Lille is to continue in her role as mayor she has, oddly, been stripped of her powers to manage the city’s water crisis. Her deputy, Ian Neilson, and mayoral committee member for water Xanthea Limberg take control of the drought response.

De Lille has been in the dog box since she clashed with former DA leader Helen Zille last year. She resigned as Western Cape leader last January after a fight in which she was forced to back down on a key appointment to her mayoral executive committee.

A day later, Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba announced that he was axing his MMC of finance, Rabelani Dagada. Mashaba apparently gave the DA’s federal executive an ultimatum: Dagada gets fired or Mashaba quits. Mashaba fired Dagada on Monday, citing a forensic investigation that pointed to nepotism and undue influence by Dagada as the main reasons for dismissing him.

Dagada called the dismissal a political "witch hunt". The decision was made in consultation with the DA’s federal executive, which met on the Sunday, and Dagada was informed by Mashaba in his office on Monday morning.

This follows the DA’s initial denial last year of allegations against its then MMC for economic development, Sharon Peetz, who was accused of taking her mother on a work trip to Spain at taxpayers’ expense. The DA initially protected Peetz, denying the allegations, saying a probe into her conduct cleared her.

Then months later, in August, Mashaba fired Peetz, saying "recent evidence" had come to light showing that she had falsified the proof of payment to the city (which opposition parties had said was false) and that there was sufficient evidence of her guilt from the onset.

In Nelson Mandela Bay the tension between the DA and the United Democratic Movement spilt over into the coalition as letters flew between UDM leader Bantu Holomisa and Maimane. It was, however, the way the DA dealt with the issue that led to Julius Malema’s EFF boycotting council meetings in Tshwane and Johannesburg to teach the DA a lesson on how to deal with smaller parties.

At the end of the year the former deputy mayor, Mongameli Bobani from the UDM, was still out of the position, while council had voted to scrap the position in its entirety.

The DA has also scored multiple own goals in the way it has handled, at the very least, the "optics" of coalition politics — by, for instance, holding press briefings to give feedback on the performance of its four mayors without the coalition partners present or even aware of the briefings.

With the national election around the corner and the ANC leadership on overdrive to turn around its electoral slide, opposition parties can ill afford the sort of blunders committed recently by the DA in particular.

If the party does not get its house in order it will prove it belongs where it is: in the opposition benches.

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