Poor De Lille – used and abused. A lesson to all black leaders in the DA

Having served her purpose for the Democratic Alliance, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille has been tossed out by the party’s conservative cabal. It’s time for the former firebrand to call it quits and start preparing her memoirs, writes KHALID SAYED  

City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s political career with the Democratic Alliance is hanging by a thread.

The firebrand mayor has been outmanoeuvred and outnumbered by factions within the DA wanting to see the back of her. The relationship between the Mayor and Premier Hellen Zille was always destined to be a clash of two political titans and a less than amicable ending.

Both politicians are in the twilight of their careers, but the needle was evident at a recent event when De Lille, addressing a gathering in Cape Town, seemingly gave Helen Zille a backhanded compliment for only taking a shower every three days and praising her for her water conservation initiative given the water crisis in the Cape.

But with the old Afrikaner male NP cabal still powerful within the DA, it was a matter of time before De Lille and her Independent Democrat supporters were going to become excess baggage.

With Bonginkosi Madikizela having beaten former Western Cape leader of the Independent Democrats Lennit Max for the leadership of the DA in the Western Cape, it was clear that Zille had strengthened her position within the party and that it must surely be tickets for De Lille, who was also recently suspended from all DA party activities.

The DA suspended De Lille and councillor JP Smith from the party after allegations and counter-allegations of corruption and the misuse of funds came to light. What is still not clear is why De Lille had relinquished the leadership of the DA in the Western Cape last year. One thing that the De Lille, Smith debacle has shown is that the DA, just like the ANC, has leadership problems of its own.

How party leader Mmusi Maimane will deal with this latest fallout in arguably the DA’s flagship city is going to be an interesting test of the ability of the party’s national leadership to crack the whip, heal divisions and move forward. The fact that the party at a national level and Maimane himself could not stop this rot speaks volumes for the deep divisions within the party and also the inability of its national structures to act quickly and decisively in resolving these issues.

Madikizela, shortly after securing the top job in the province, called for unity in the party.These leadership battles put the party on perilous grounds in the run-up to 2019 where the ANC, I believe, will make up ground in key constituencies. One thing is for certain: De Lille will either retire or join another party before the next general elections in 2019.

The DA is done with her and the fact that they meted out the same punishment to a mayor as they have a mayoral committee member, is a stark example of the contempt with which they hold De Lille. Is it a case of becoming too big for one’s boots in the DA? Perhaps. Or did De Lille have ambitions for the Premiership of the province?

Either way, that ambition has all been quelled by the latest developments. She has no protection from Zille or Maimane, that much is clear.  How her being thrown under the bus by party leadership will sit with, especially, the so-called coloured vote is hard to quantify in a province that marches to the tune of the blue brigade without much questioning of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

Having said that, this is an embarrassment for a party that thrives on perpetuating the narrative that it has a squeaky-clean image and which loves to take the moral high ground when it comes to its leadership and structures.

For a party desperate to make everyone believe that it treats all its people equally and that it is a home for all, the perception that its black leadership is only there to get votes and not wield any significant power would not have changed given the punishment meted out to De Lille. But clearly, all is not well within the party. In De Lille and Zille, the DA has brand names that are part and parcel of the political lexicon of this country and have more than a fair share of public support.

But they are in the twilight of their careers and political dynasties have limited shelf lives. Perhaps it is time for these two to hang up the gloves and write their memoirs. The party that they are custodians of is in a leadership crisis and continues to battle itself with questions around identity, trust and mandate.

They have the gravitas and experience to fix it, but egos (bruised or not) and their personalities will dictate that there will be a whole lot more damage done to the party before this particular chapter in the DA’s history has been written.

One thing is certain: the DA cannot claim the moral high ground over the ANC with regards to political gerrymandering and factionalism within its own ranks. Political expediency for power knows no party colours or loyalty.

Sayed is the Western Cape Chairperson of the ANC Youth League 


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