DA civil war erupts as Western Cape congress leadership battle looms
Simmering animosities in the DA's Western Cape heartland have exploded into civil war.
Party leader Mmusi Maimane's benching on Tuesday of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille and a member of her executive, JP Smith, has focused attention on Saturday's congress to elect a new provincial leader.
Maimane's action against De Lille and Smith has lanced the boil on divisions in the party, with insiders warning that the fracture has the potential to become the same sort of disaster for the DA as the street-name debacle of 2001, which split the party and weakened its electoral position for a decade.
Hearings into the name-calling between De Lille and Smith began on Tuesday under the chairmanship of parliamentary chief whip John Steenhuisen, who said they would continue for several days.
It is not clear whether De Lille and Smith will be able to attend Saturday's congress in Cape Town, which will elect a new provincial leader. The contenders are housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela, backed by Smith; provincial legislature member Lennit Max; and mayoral committee member Anda Ntsodo, who is likely to split the vote.
Smith is one of 10 people vying for three positions as deputy chairmen.
Last year Smith won election as deputy chief whip in the metro on a ticket of killing off the influence of former members of the Independent Democrats, the party De Lille led before folding it into the DA.
Shortly afterwards De Lille tried to remove Smith from the city management committee, but refrained from doing so after input by the DA's top leadership structure.
This year things went from bad to worse as the two invariably ended up on opposite sides of almost every difference of opinion in the Cape Town DA.
Steenhuisen said the hearings would remain confidential until he had briefed the DA federal executive. He added that such hearings had in the past been successful at restoring good relations.
Maimane's decision to suspend De Lille and Smith from DA activities, but to allow them to continue with their city council management duties, comes after Smith sent a confidential letter to Maimane and DA federal chairman James Selfe about his unhappiness over the disbandment of the city's Special Investigative Unit.
In the letter, leaked to the media, Smith highlighted possible reasons for the closure of the unit and raised the possibility that irregular security equipment installations took place at De Lille's home.
While Smith's supporters claim the confidentiality of the letter was an attempt to safeguard the DA's interests by raising legitimate concerns, De Lille supporters see it as an underhanded attempt to spread gossip behind her back without giving her the right to reply.
Some of De Lille's supporters slammed Maimane's decision to place the mayor on special leave. "She has done nothing wrong. She retaliated that she is going to see a lawyer but she has done nothing wrong in terms of anything," said one.
Another said: "JP thinks that he is untouchable. So now there comes a problem: a [mayoral committee] member thinks he is above the mayor. Why they have suspended her I don't know."
A councillor in De Lille's camp said Smith had differed with the mayor for a long time and had been boosted by his recent election as DA deputy metro chairman. Smith's supporters said his beef with De Lille was because he was one of the few people who was willing to challenge the mayor, even when she had too much political power as the provincial DA leader.
"At the time they had too much power and they deployed former Independent Democrats members [everywhere]," the Smith supporter said. "There was a point where you find that everyone was connected to someone there." Another Smith supporter took exception to De Lille calling Smith a "cowboy", and a DA councillor said matters were likely to come to a head at a caucus meeting next week.
A former ID member said there had been unhappiness among De Lille's supporters in the party because they are always branded as the ID faction.
Close Smith supporters, however, said he was willing to fight for the special investigations unit to be reinstated because of the value of its work, in which it even linked up with elite SAPS units.