The DA blurred the line between party and state when it chose to take action at party level in a dispute between the Mayor of Cape Town and a member of her executive, writes MEOKGO MATUBA
The abrupt and misguided decision by the Democratic Alliance to place on special leave Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille and her Mayoral Committee Member JP Smith from all party activities, as a punitive response to dishonouring the public service with their street brawl has reminded me of George Orwell’s warning that “Political language is designed…. to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The Democratic Alliance, which is under immense pressure to always show that they are different from the ANC, that they take action against their members who shame the dignity of office, has decided that in response to the public spats of serious and criminal accusations and counter-accusations between its public officials, they must place both of them on special leave.
Answering the barrage of media questions on this decision, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said it was necessary for him to take tough action against the officials. ”In the DA, accountability affects us all,” he said.
The problem, however, is that his tough actions themselves are a misplaced and misguided ploy which has absolutely nothing to do with enforcing accountability. The actions of the head of the executive (De Lille) in the city and her governing committee member (Smith) have a potential to collapse governance of the city. Any action that seeks to prevent this collapse must include removing them from positions of governance where they can bring this collapse to pass.
For the DA to think that the best action is to remove these two, not from governance of the city, where they are threatening the functioning of the city, but from the political party must be one of the most senseless actions meant to hoodwink the public with a superfluous and false discharge of DA power that will look like something when it is in fact nothing.
The DA knows what the public wants. A political party that does not tolerate inaction against dishonourable public servants. However, they also know, although they deny it for the ANC, that politics is an art of competing goals and politicians are not appointed but elected both inside and outside the party.
Whatever punitive act the Federal Executive takes, they know that it has the potential for immeasurable repercussions from a lot of people who in broader reaction move to collapse both the party and their ever so fragile mergers and coalitions. So, the DA’s answer to this political reality is to hoodwink both their members and the public, taking action that is full of fury but is actually empty deeds meant to lull the public into thinking the DA is a party of accountability.
Patricia De Lille no longer holds any position in the party and Smith is a non-political starter. Suspending them at party level for their acts in government is the second false move we have seen in the last few months. The DA did the same thing with Helen Zille, throwing at her the same meaningless suspension in June. Even worse, they are still allowed to run for office. So, what does this suspension really entail?
South Africans, in this case, residents of Cape Town, interact with their Mayor and other public servants as government officials not as party members. When De Lille suspends an investigative unit in the City, she is doing that as a Mayor. When De Lille is accused of building her private home using taxpayers’ money, she is accused as a Mayor responsible for the City and its budget. When JP Smith throws his toys out of the cot and draws De Lille into a street brawl over the closure of the City’s Special Investigative Unit (SIU), he is doing that as a Member of the Mayoral Committee responsible for the SIU.
When government officials fight, there are government processes that are in place to deal with such disputes including the involvement of the MEC of Local Government when such disputes begin to affect the functioning of government.
It is, therefore, curious that when government officials have a dispute it is the political party that gets involved. Why would it be the party that meddles in government officials’ disputes instead of invoking government mechanism for dispute resolutions? As many analysts have said, the DA has blurred the lines between party and state.
Overarching this entire circus, however, is the undeniable fact that this is simply about racism and once again the DA fails dismally to deal with racism from their white establishment. The worst response to racism is to treat all parties equal as part of trying to be objective. Such a response is itself a racist one that amounts to double victimisation.
JP Smith, who is a Mayoral Committee member responsible for safety and security, reports to Mayor Patricia De Lille and it cannot be that a response to his defiance against the closure of the SIU, leaking an irrelevant information about De Lille’s house improvements (an already racist act of thinking accusations of corruption are his biggest chance to sink a black leader), has managed to reduce his boss by appealing to his white friends and white appeasers in the federal executive, clearly telling De Lille that you may be Mayor but you serve at the pleasure of me and my white friends.
De Lille may be wrong in closing the SIU and may well have personal motives, she is probably guilty of upgrading her house using municipal funds, but she does not deserve to be drawn into a street brawl by her subordinate and certainly does not deserve to be treated the same way by the Federal Executive.
Maimane remains the most underwhelming and immature leader of any political party. He is weak, indebted to those who parachuted him to his undeserved position and is incapable of seeing beyond his self-preservation and white appeasement.
JP Smith has won, and the white establishment has finally put De Lille where she belongs, like all black people, outside.
Matuba is Secretary-General of the ANC Women’s League