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OPINION: De Lille should not be clinging to power

CAPE Town mayor Patricia de Lille during a council meeting last week. The dismal handling of the matter has harmed the DA, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE Town mayor Patricia de Lille during a council meeting last week. The dismal handling of the matter has harmed the DA, says the writer. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 30, 2018


Like Tom Moyane, Riah Phiyega, Shaun Abrahams, Supra Mahumapelo and a host of others, Patricia de Lille has joined the band of those who cling to office beyond all reason when it is clear that the person or body that appointed them has lost confidence in them.

De Lille, as at the time of writing, has declined to say whether she will honour her undertaking to leave the mayoralty of Cape Town.

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After serious procedural missteps and stinging adverse court findings on procedure that damaged the image of the party, DA leader Mmusi Maimane did a deal with De Lille. 

In return for the DA dropping its internal party proceedings against her, she agreed to resign with effect from October31. At the time it was made perfectly clear that the investigation by the city council would proceed. 

The arrangement showed the good sense of Maimane - and of De Lille - in placing the interests of citizens before those of the DA. De Lille chose to misrepresent the deal as a complete vindication of herself, stating that she “had been cleared”.

She spoke too soon. 

As agreed, the council investigation proceeded. Bowmans, one of South Africa’s top legal firms, produced a 2000-page report recommending that De Lille, mayoral committee member Brett Herron and suspended transport chief Melissa Whitehead be charged criminally. 

(Personal disclosure: I served articles as an attorney with Bowmans in the 1960s.)

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On Thursday, there was a unani- mous decision by the council, supported by all parties, including the ANC, to accept and act on the report. Some of De Lille’s acolytes resigned as DA members and as councillors. This is a pity - some of them are good people.

In 1775, Samuel Johnson made the famous statement, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. This line was not about patriotism in general, but the false use of the term “patriotism” by William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham (the patriot-minister) and his supporters. 

De Lille and her supporters did not take refuge in patriotism; instead they took the cheap and easy last refuge of saying that the DA (not the unanimous Cape Town council) was motivated by racism. 

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Calling someone a racist in our country today is the equivalent of a political death sentence - unless, of course, it is demonstrably untrue. And this allegation of racism on the part of the DA has all the hallmarks of a manufactured, threadbare and thoroughly disreputable attempt to kick up dust. 

The DA has not covered itself in glory with the handling of this matter, but there is no reason to doubt that this is a matter of principle, and that racism had nothing to do with it.

Is the Bowmans report also racist? Are the serious allegations of impropriety and maladministration that justify criminal prosecution racist?

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De Lille maintains that “certain individuals” aim to besmirch her reputation, and that this has been part of a campaign against her for a year. 

What sensible political party would act so stupidly that it would, for no real reason, want to rid itself of an effective, honest and reliable mayor?

She forgets that the reason this saga has gone on for a year or more is that she has been resisting resigning for a year, using every stratagem in the book to postpone her departure and trying, with some success, to make the DA look like a disaster.

The defence for a year has been that no one knows what De Lille is accused of. Or that an “old boys’ club” want her out. Or that the "racists" in the DA (which today has far more black, coloured and Indian supporters than white supporters) can’t stand having a woman like De Lille in office.

The latest Bowmans report was sent to all councillors at the weekend in preparation for a debate on Thursday. Someone disreputable and dishonest breached the confidentiality and leaked copies of the report to the media. 

When the meeting took place, all councillors, including a whole array of opposition councillors who previously voted in favour of De Lille during the motion of no confidence, voted to accept the report. Are they all racists?

The Hawks or the SAPS will now investigate. If there is sufficient cause, as reported by Bowmans, there will be a criminal prosecution. If the evidence is sufficiently compelling, De Lille will be convicted. If it is not, she will be acquitted. 

She should devote her time now to preparing her defence and vacating office, and should leave the running of the city to Dan Plato, the mayor-elect. He has done the job before (after Helen Zille and before De Lille), and is a safe pair of hands. The citizens are the priority; not De Lille and not the DA.

Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.

The Star

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