Decoding Patricia de Lille’s next step
De Lille does not exclude the possibility of contesting next year’s elections, either as leader of a new party or as an independent
She may have resigned as mayor of Cape Town, but Patricia de Lille has not disappeared from public life, and she is likely to continue to be a thorn in the side of the DA.
For the past 18 months the DA has done its utmost in the face of fierce resistance by De Lille to remove her from its tent, but it is likely to find that she is a lot more trouble outside it. She claims to have had the support of "thousands" in her battle with the party, support that could provide her with a foothold should she decide to re-enter the political arena.
Voters are believed to be disillusioned with all the infighting that has rocked the DA and the city council. Allegations of racism within the party, and of its bias towards servicing the affluent areas of the city, have added fuel to this dissatisfaction, which political analysts predict will probably cause a large number of DA supporters to stay away from the polls in next year’s general elections.
De Lille has also made damning allegations about a "white boys’ club" that rules the roost in the DA, allegations that will undoubtedly resurface in any election campaign in which she participates.
Cape Town and the Western Cape have been strongholds for the DA, but the party’s firm political grip will be loosened by mounting opposition to its rule there. It will have to rethink its national strategy of devoting most of its resources and energy to winning the prize of Gauteng in the election.
The Western Cape, previously regarded as a certain win, will require renewed focus. In the 2014 national election the DA won 59.38% of the vote in the province, while the ANC got 32.89%.
De Lille is not saying anything yet about her future plans, except that she will continue to participate in public life either politically or as a member of civil society.
However, there are already reports that she and the eight councillors who resigned from the Cape Town city council last week after her resignation as mayor are considering the establishment of a new political party to contest the elections. Forming a new political party is not something new for De Lille — she launched the Independent Democrats in 2003. It eventually merged with the DA in 2010.
De Lille says she will make an announcement about her future role in about two weeks.
The party’s firm grip will be loosened by mounting opposition
She does not exclude the possibility of contesting the elections either as leader of a new party or as an independent candidate.
She is adamant, though, that she will not join any of the existing political parties. "No, no, no — that is not one of the areas I am considering," she says.
"I think we need to look at the template of politics right now. I believe there is a need to disrupt the old template. From 1994 until now voter turnout has been decreasing every year, which indicates that people are either tired of politics or tired of existing parties."
Political analyst Daniel Silke believes the infighting in the DA has demoralised its core support.
"It has depressed those supporters who expected better from the DA given its intention to be a better option than the ANC. The implications of that are that voters will be less enthusiastic about turning up to vote.
The party has in the past relied on a very high turnout of its core support base to propel it, from a proportional representation point of view," says Silke. He says that what could destabilise the DA is if De Lille decides to re-enter party politics actively under her own flag. "I think that if she does, and if she can somehow escape [legal consequences], she could command some support among the discontents and those who have been alienated.
"If De Lille were to stand in the election the DA would have to work a bit harder to secure a 50% majority. If De Lille can muster 5% of the Western Cape votes and the ANC increases its percentage marginally, it will be a struggle for the DA," he says.
Gareth van Onselen, head of politics and governance at the Institute of Race Relations, points out that the De Lille saga has to be taken together with a number of other factors — such as the controversial tweets about colonialism by Western Cape premier Helen Zille, the way the DA handled the drought, the nebulous nature of the party’s policies, and its various identity crises — to explain the erosion of its support.
This is likely to find expression in voter apathy and a stay-away. Staying away will affect the DA’s percentage of the vote. Van Onselen says the saving grace for the DA is that the ANC in the Western Cape is so "fundamentally useless and broken" that it does not offer a viable alternative.
DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela is confident, however, that forthcoming by-elections in the province will show that the DA has retained its support despite the challenges it has faced.