Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille faces new charges brought against her by the DA. 
Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
“IT’S De Lille tense in Cape Town right now,” a social media post reads, summing up the situation after Patricia de Lille’s membership of the DA was terminated and she was removed as Cape Town mayor.

The developments threatened to end her political career, which spans many decades - first as a trade union activist and then as a politician.

Depending on which political, social or economic perspective she’s viewed from, she’s either a hero or a villain.

To many she is a feisty politician who pulls no punches.

“In public she can be affable but in political fights and contests she can be a pit bull. She rarely gives up in a fight,” said former secretary-general of the PAC, Thami ka Plaatjie.

He first met De Lille in 1987 while he was a student leader and De Lille a member of the National Council of Trade Unions.

“Patricia is a driven person who takes on any task with great enthusiasm. She is energetic and pursues tasks to the finish,” Ka Plaatjie said.

“In most cases she seeks to surround herself with people who are more knowledgeable than her and thus benefits a lot from their insights. Her political growth is largely owed to how she harnesses the collective around her for her own development.”

However, over time De Lille had became more assertive, to the point where she would define herself in her own terms.

“She would take on tasks and singularly pursue them, sometimes to the chagrin of her colleagues. She relishes projecting her political work in the media. She is a good mass mobiliser who keeps a close eye on her stronghold and services it with all her might,” Ka Plaaitjie said.

“She can be very stubborn in the belief of her correctness and it will take a great effort to convince her otherwise.”

De Lille grew up in Beaufort West in humble conditions and rose as a trade unionist with a belief in Pan Africanism. She joined the PAC in 1987 and remained a member until 2003, when she used the party floor-crossing window-period to form her own party, the Independent Democrats (ID).

In 2010 the party merged with the DA, a move which angered some ID members and was described as “political suicide” by others.

South African writer Charlene Smith, who is based in Boston, spent six months with De Lille while writing a biography of the politician.

Smith spoke to De Lille’s friends and foes.

“She’s hard-working, motivated by social justice; she cannot bear unfairness and will go after those she considers unfair and exploiters,” said Smith.

She described De Lille as “frank and intolerant of injustice... She says what is on her mind, especially if angry. I saw this once when she’d received complaints about Pollsmoor Juvenile Prison”.

“She went to the prison and I with her. The conditions were disgusting. Seventy-five kids were crammed into cells meant for no more than 20... Many kids had to sleep on the concrete floor.

“Most had skin diseases because of overcrowding... Patricia was furious and gave the prison officials hell and even before we drove away was on the phone to the minister of prisons.

“For the next three days she did little else but lobby until all the kids in Pollsmoor had medical care... She ensured their trials were brought forward. Most had been awaiting trial for as long as two years; they came from families too poor to afford legal help.”

Weekend Argus