De Lille’s comeback trail could put her in conflict with former colleagues
Politics / 2 June 2019, 4:04pm / Siyabonga Mkhwanazi
GOOD Party leader Patricia de Lille made a surprise and dramatic return to national politics this week after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced her as one of the new members of his Cabinet.
De Lille’s return to national politics as Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure immerses her deeply in matters of governance and policy direction.
Her appointment comes mere months after she established her own political party following a spectacular fallout with the DA - which has now fired the first salvo and said it would hold its former party member accountable in her new role.
Unperturbed and eager to prove her mettle to the nation and her naysayers, De Lille said she had answered the “Thuma Mina” call and was ready to hit the ground running.
She holds a large portfolio that manages government properties worth billions of rand, and has stated that one of her first orders of business would be to expedite the release of state-owned land for housing.
The Department of Public Works has for years been at the centre of allegations of widespread corruption, and De Lille, former executive mayor of Cape Town, is seen as the right person to clean it up.
As someone who is no stranger to politics and has strong Struggle credentials, she says she has been fighting for the past 40 years and will continue to do so, adding that she worked with Ramaphosa in the trade unions in the 1980s and has known him for many years.
She was a member of the PAC for years before she crossed the floor in the early 2000s to form her own party, the Independent Democrats.
But before that De Lille blew the whistle on the arms deal in the 1990s and named top senior politicians involved in alleged corruption on the arms procurements.
“This happened almost 20 years ago, in September 1999, when I blew the whistle on the arms deal,” she said.
De Lille said she was willing to testify against former president Jacob Zuma in the case in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg, as she had already testified against Schabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni on arms deal-related cases. Both men were convicted.
Zuma is fighting for a permanent stay of prosecution.
This is the first time De Lille has been part of the Cabinet.
As leader of the ID, she often spoke out against corruption in Parliament.
In 2010, the DA came calling, which saw the ID merging with the party that would become De Lille’s new political home for almost a decade.
A year later, she became mayor of Cape Town, a position she held until last year, when she left after a long fight with the DA, which had been trying to push her out for some time.
Her highly publicised departure came shortly before the country was preparing to go to the polls for the national and provincial government elections. But in true De Lille “never-say-die” fashion, she managed to form the Good Party in just a few short months, with the promise of fighting corruption in the country.
In another coup, her fledgling party managed to get two seats in the National Assembly, and a few weeks later, De Lille has once more managed to silence her detractors by securing a coveted position in Cabinet, with a new responsibility of managing infrastructure development.
She is now committed to tackling the country’s massive infrastructure backlog, and securing state-owned land for housing - something she called for during her tenure as mayor and as Good Party leader.
There is a massive housing backlog and various departments and state-owned entities own large pieces of land.
But the issue of government properties is a sticking point and the Department of Public Works was facing the wrath of MPs in the standing committee on public accounts over expenditure on some of the state properties.
The president last year announced a massive infrastructure programme worth more than R400billion in the next few years.
Ramaphosa said the infrastructure development fund would drive growth in the country.
The president chairs the infrastructure co-ordination council and De Lille is going to be a key member of the work that will be done there in terms of views and programmes.
De Lille may have joined the ANC government, but she is a wily politician and is known to hold her own views.
She said she would work with all ANC ministers and members, while remaining leader of the Good party, and holding the ruling party accountable.
“I bring to this job seven years of running a city. All cities in our country need to be transformed.
“We need to rise above our party differences,” she said.
This is not the first time the ANC has had an opposition leader in Cabinet.
The IFP, Azapo, the Freedom Front Plus and National Freedom Party have held key positions in the past 25 years.
IFP leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi was minister of home affairs, the deceased Ben Skosana was minister of correctional services, Sipho Mzimela was correctional services minister and Ben Ngubane was the science and technology minister.
Former Azapo leader Mosibudi Mangena was minister of science and technology during the time of former president Thabo Mbeki.
Former leader of the FF+ Pieter Mulder was deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi of the National Freedom Party was also a deputy minister in the Zuma Cabinet.
De Lille is a high-profile figure and is not new to the political game, but it remains to be seen just how she plays it in a different capacity under robust debates in Parliament and portfolio committees which remain key to holding government accountable.
As she enters a new political era amid a tough next five years ahead for the governing party, De Lille will have to navigate the relationship with the state in what will undoubtedly be a test for both parties.
She’s also one of several female MPs selected to serve in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, after he appointed 50% of women in his national executive.
Thoko Didiza has been sent back to the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform.
This is the position she held between 1999 and 2006.
She is one of the senior figures in the ANC and held the position of House chairperson in the National Assembly in the last Parliament before Ramaphosa brought her back into the Cabinet.
Another senior ANC figure retained in Cabinet is Lindiwe Sisulu, who has also been sent back to her old portfolio of Human Settlements and Water and Sanitation.
Sisulu was in charge of the department before she was sent to International Relations by Ramaphosa last year. She has served in various portfolios in the government.
Naledi Pandor, who was recently touted as deputy president before David Mabuza was retained, has been sent to International Relations.
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has been appointed Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
This is seen as one of the key portfolios, as she has to clean up municipalities that are caught up in corruption and collapse.
Dlamini Zuma was already leading a team of ministers on the intervention in North West after the collapse of several departments and municipalities.
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was retained at Defence by Ramaphosa.
However, Ayanda Dlodlo is the new State Security Minister and takes over from Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba.
Dlodlo has in the past 10 years occupied various positions in government, and served as deputy minister for a long time before she got given a full ministry recently at the Department of Public Service and Administration.
Barbara Creecy is a newcomer to the Cabinet after she served as MEC for Finance in Gauteng for several years.
She heads a new portfolio of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
She will have the task of ensuring the merger of these departments is effected to tackle issues affecting the sectors.
Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane takes over from Derek Hanekom at Tourism.
Kubayi-Ngubane’s star has been rising since she chaired the portfolio committee on posts and telecommunications, before she was promoted to the Cabinet a few years ago.