Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille completes what is likely to be her final week as the head of the country’s second city, concerns are growing that the DA’s handling of the matter could further fracture and weaken the party ahead of the national elections in 2019.

The DA put up an impressive showing in the 2016 local government elections and retained its power base, Cape Town. Significantly, it also gained control of some other major metros, including Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, as part of a coalition. The DA has high hopes of building on this momentum and unseating a struggling ANC in the elections in 2019; however there is apprehension within the organisation that the De Lille issue could cause major damage.

The DA is apparently intent on getting rid of De Lille, who stands accused of maladministration and corruption. De Lille, known for her no-nonsense approach to politics, has been fighting tooth and nail to clear herself of all the charges. Some within the party feel she has been unfairly treated and is being pushed out because she stood up against the "old white establishment within the DA".

According to Prof Piet Naudé, the director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School, the infighting in the DA demonstrates that in a lively democracy all parties are, at times, subject to internal personality or policy clashes.

"The DA is no exception. Though the controversies around the mayor do have a negative effect on the brand of the DA, the damage will not be huge as long as the party can avoid these clashes from affecting service delivery, for example the water crisis," says Naudé.

Should De Lille be removed it would mark a spectacular fall for the former Independent Democrats (ID) leader who not long ago was seen as Helen Zille’s likely successor for the Western Cape premiership.

"It’s obvious that the DA wants De Lille out and all due process has so far been ignored," says one DA councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity. "She has been unfairly treated and she has not been given a chance to fully state her side of the story before the motion of no-confidence debate." He says the DA caucus is divided on the matter.

De Lille has also argued that she has been unfairly treated.

"All I have repeatedly asked for was to be treated fairly and now I have been charged the process must take its course. Yet it seems every other day, there is another manoeuvre to undermine these processes and get rid of me before testing the allegations against me and giving me a fair chance to respond to those allegations. It begs the question just how much confidence the DA has in their charges against me," De Lille says.

The mayor was hauled before the party’s federal disciplinary committee on charges of maladministration and ignoring misconduct and tender irregularities. She was, however, allowed to remain as mayor, pending the outcome of the disciplinary process. A date for the disciplinary hearing has yet to be set.

De Lille approached the high court in Cape Town on Tuesday arguing that the vote on the motion of no confidence in her should be conducted by means of a secret ballot. The court was to hand down judgment on Wednesday.

Earlier in February, the ANC in the Cape Town council abruptly withdrew its no-confidence motion against De Lille and said the DA was hijacking its motion and using her as "a sacrificial lamb" to settle internal squabbles.

The DA caucus had decided in January by 84-59 votes that it had lost confidence in De Lille. After the ANC withdrew its motion, the DA tabled its own motion, which is due to be debated on February 15.

DA federal council chairman James Selfe concedes that the handling of the De Lille matter could alienate some voters.

"Voters want politicians to attend to their issues. So yes, I am concerned about the impact. But sometimes one has to do the right thing despite the cost," says Selfe.

Political analyst Daniel Silke says there’s been a broad leadership failure within the DA leadership in the Western Cape.

"They [the DA] are fortunate that the ANC remains a distant second in terms of appeal to the broader electorate in the Western Cape ... that gives the DA a cushion when it comes to this [De Lille] issue. It’s unfortunate that it happens simultaneously with the water crisis ... all of this can harm the DA, but I do not believe voters [in the Western Cape] are ready to cross the floor to the ANC. The big problem for the DA is how they combat an ANC led by Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the 2019 national polls," says Silke.