Cape Town - Political defections are par for the course in a democracy and in the lead-up to an election, but the unexpected leap of Grant Pascoe, the DA’s leader in the Cape metro, to the ANC, seems to have sent shockwaves through the party’s ranks.
As social media is often the quickest way to air a view or vent vitriol, most took to Twitter to react to Pascoe’s surprise announcement.
DA leader and premier in the Western Cape, Helen Zille, retweeted a litany of Pascoe’s own tweets about the poor performance of the ANC.
On March 25, for example, just days before he donned an ANC T-shirt at Luthuli House, Pascoe tweeted: “The violent protest that flared up around Cape Town on Tuesday and this morning have a serious effect on our economy. Is the #ANC behind it?” A few days before that, Pascoe commented on the ANC’s election campaign with the observation: “Must be difficult being an ANC member nowadays and canvassing for votes in poor areas.”
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard’s caustic tweet read: “Oh look... trailer-trash Grant Pascoe removed himself from my FB site before I could chuck him off. Elections really are a great way to solve discipline/incompetence problems as rats jump ship, saving us the trouble of firing them.”
The rodent analogy was picked up by DA strategist Ryan Coetzee, now based in London, who tweeted: “Always bemusing to watch a rat swimming *towards* a sinking ship.”
But Cameron Dugmore, of the ANC, said the reaction from Pascoe’s former colleagues pointed to a “DA in crisis”.
ANC leader in the council Tony Ehrenreich also showed some support. “We may have differed, but he (Pascoe) was principled and always defended the needs of the people of the Cape Flats,” he said.
Pascoe eventually replied on Tuesday: “Quite enjoyed reading all your tweets, thanks for the mentions ya’ll.”
He had earlier told the Cape Argus that he was surprised at the intensity of the reaction to his decision.
But although Pascoe does not have the same larger-than-life persona as a Pieter Marais or an Allan Boesak, his role in securing a substantial portion of the coloured vote for the DA should not be underplayed. He was also, as one councillor said after hearing of his move, “our leader in the metro”.
Pascoe takes with him to the ANC more than 10 years of local government experience. As leader of the DA in the metro, he has inside information about the party’s election plans and strategy. He knows about the inner workings of the mayoral committee and how decisions were made.
ANC chief whip Xolani Sotashe said it was up to the ANC’s leadership to deploy Pascoe, who, for now, was an ordinary card-carrying member of the party. But he acknowledged that Pascoe had “a huge influence and following”.
The party would use people “of the calibre of Pascoe to help us wrestle the Western Cape from the DA’s power”, he said.
While mayor Patricia de Lille has been quick to sully Pascoe’s performance record in the city, with claims that he was underperforming and was therefore in line to be fired when she reshuffled her top political leadership after the May elections, Pascoe was twice almost mayor of Cape Town. He narrowly lost out to Dan Plato in 2006 and then to De Lille in 2011.
He served as chairman of the Mitchells Plain subcouncil from 2006 – an area that is considered a DA stronghold as it controls all nine wards. He has managed two mayoral committee portfolios – social development and special projects and, recently, tourism, events and marketing.
In this role, he had the task of coming up with a plan to make the Cape Town Stadium financially viable.
There are those in the tourism industry who would argue that Pascoe’s performance was lacklustre. Chris von Ulmenstein, of the Whale Cottage, said his sole contribution to tourism was to bring soccer events to the city. “He had also failed to make a going concern of the Cape Town Stadium after four years,” she said.
The team he set up to handle tourism, events and marketing was involved in a forensic investigation last year after it emerged that inside information about a cancelled tender had been leaked to the media. Pascoe and his staff were cleared of any involvement, but the matter pointed to underlying tensions. However, he was credited with being part of the team responsible for a “bumper” festive season programme.
Community activist Rozario Brown, who supported Pascoe’s mayoral bid in 2011, credited him with turning the tourism portfolio into a “major success”. He said Pascoe should not be condemned for his political decisions.
Sotashe said De Lille’s statement accusing Pascoe of poor performance highlighted the city’s weak leadership.
Pascoe told the Cape Argus that the DA had failed the coloured electorate, and was more interested in gathering votes than in providing services. After weighing up his political options, he said he had opted for the ANC. He has denied that he made the move for money. As a mayoral committee member, he would have taken home a package of nearly a R1 million a year.
As Pascoe was a proportional representation councillor, his defection will mean one less seat for the DA in the 221-strong council.
De Lille said that deputy mayor Ian Neilson, who is also the mayoral member for finance, had been appointed as the acting mayoral committee member for tourism.
The DA has announced that Shaun August, a Steenberg councillor, will step in as acting DA leader in the metro.