She has moved from trade unionism to the PAC, when many of its members were still chanting “One settler, one bullet” to the formation of her own party, the Independent Democrats, and its flirtation with blue-collar coloured people and to the neo-liberalism of the DA.
Her story has long been regarded as the blueprint for politicians wanting to change their political colours - not once or twice, but three times - and still be successful.
From an MEC in Helen Zille’s Western Cape administration, she replaced the ineffective Dan Plato as mayor, and then became the leader of the DA in the province.
A two-thirds majority in the last local government elections took De Lille to grand new heights. The world appeared to be her oyster.
Reflecting on a book, View from City Hall, Reflections on governing Cape Town, which De Lille penned with her now sworn enemy, Craig Kesson, Harvard Economics Professor Edward Glaeser described her as “one of the world’s best mayors. Anyone who is interested in the future of Africa’s cities can learn from the wisdom of Mayor de Lille”, he said.
But it appears that all is not what it seems to be. Under the city’s beautiful dress is a soiled undergarment.
The message revolving around Cape Town being the best-run city in South Africa is turning out to be nothing but very good media spin.
Over the past few weeks stories of bitter infighting between DA councillors, of maladministration, of autocratic behaviour by the mayor, of corruption and of cover-ups have shocked sleepy Cape Town.
De Lille has strongly denied any wrongdoing. But Len Swimmer, deputy chair of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, which represents more than 350 organisations around the city, countered: “She is a rule unto herself. She refuses to listen to anyone else. She makes up all the rules and regulations herself.
“She has emasculated all the checks and balances that there were in the city.”
De Lille has also been said to shout down visiting delegations with whom she disagrees and to order them out of her office.
If these allegations are true, she must be removed from her position. For this is not the way to run a democratic city.
* This editorial was published in the Cape Times