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A lot has been made of the internal turmoil of the Democratic Alliance (DA). For over a year, the country has watched one political party rip itself up over the removal of one person – Patricia de Lille.
When de Lille and her party, the Independent Democrats (ID), took up a partnership opportunity with the DA to remove the rule of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape, the promise of achieving the same feat on a national scale was realized.
However, a powerful personality like that of de Lille would be tested and the attempt to contain it would become the catalyst in the rise and fall of the relationship.
Racism a major factor in the party’s internal divisions
It could be said that the DA in Cape Town has been eternally divided in the aftermath of the highly publicized battle between de Lille and the DA. There is little else that can be done when race relations form part of the division.
One one hand, supporters of de Lille, within the party, claim that racism became the ultimate reason why the DA wanted her out. On the other hand, the party vowed to remove her because she is a ‘power-hungry bully’.
Although the dust has settled between the two parties involved, the DA claims to still have the documents it was prepared to use against de Lille that taints the image of her as the champion of clean governance.
What evidence does the DA have against de Lille’s alleged misconduct?
The main piece of evidence is an SMS that de Lille allegedly sent, instructing a senior councillor to score an interview candidate, of the city manager position, highest.
Achmat Ebrahim, despite all the suspicion surrounding his reappointment as the city manager, vacated his position earlier this year. De Lille has never denied sending the SMS. However, she has always asked for the evidence of it to be authenticated.
Mail & Guardian have confirmed that the forensic report, compiled by an independent company called Cyanre, contains proof of the authenticity of the SMS.
Cyanre, however, has not excluded the possibility that the message could have been expertly photoshopped.
To date, the SMS is just about the only piece of evidence the DA has shared publicly. Mmusi Maimane has remained silent about any information related to the case of de Lille.
Most would agree that maybe it was for the good of what is left of the DA that the disciplinary hearing against de Lille never happened.
It would have compelled them to reveal the inner workings of the party and highlighted issues of racism and many other flaws within the party, especially since de Lille was adamant on having it in the view of the public.
The genesis of the division within the DA
According to sources that revealed the genesis of the battle between de Lille and the DA to Mail & Guardian, the root of the division stems back in August 2016, right after the local government elections.
The DA had won the Western Cape by a two-thirds majority and everything was all good and well – until they had to elect a deputy leader.
The contest was between JP Smith and Brett Herron, a former member of de Lille’s ID. It is alleged by de Lille’s supporters that Smith had referred to non-white members of the party as ID people.
Brynard’s encounter with de Lille that sparked issue of race
They cite this moment as the beginning of a racially fuelled division in the caucus. The battle between councillor Carin Brynard, who has since left the DA to join Cape Party, and de Lille, further disfigured the racial lines inherent in the party.
After Brynard had lost her position as the chair of the safety and security portfolio committee, she sent a text message to de Lille, Smith, Maimane and James Selfe (the federal executive chairperson) that would send de Lille off the hinges:
“I take note of the insult and ‘dwarsklap’ I am given with regards to not having received a full-time post. I also take note of the fact that less able and short serving [councillors] received posts – a great number of them who are ex-ID members and buddies of certain groupings!”
This fuelled a heated exchange of words between de Lille and Brynard who alleged that the resigned mayor had, at some point, referred to her as a “Nat murderer“, which is a derogatory way of describing her as white and Afrikaner.
It was already the end of the line between de Lille and the DA by then. However, what sealed it for the party were these two things: de Lille claiming responsibility for the two-thirds majority win in the local government elections and the V&A Waterfront R9m payment.
De Lille’s local election victory claim and the V&A deal
According to de Lille’s supporters, she had rightfully attributed the success of the DA’s victory in the 2016 local government elections to herself, caucus chief whip, Shaun August and Herron.
The DA’s leadership despised her for that, citing that she was arrogant and a bully. It was also alleged that she had tried to force a payment of R9m to the V&A Waterfront for “municipal services“.
Two voting sessions were held and after many in the caucus meeting were not persuaded by this late entry into the agenda, de Lille was forced to retract the payment. This would be included in the DA’s evidence against her in an attempt to strengthen their case of misconduct.
The first attempt to remove de Lille came when Selfe, through the leadership of MP, John Steenhuisen, set up a subcommittee that would be known as the Steenhuisen commission.
De Lille’s supporters state that the V&A issue and her claims about the 2016 elections were the main reason why the party launched the commission – to try and get rid of her.
However, one councillor, who has been vocal about her displeasure of de Lille’s leadership practices, stated that
“we were labelled as trying to stop transformation in the city. We were told we had to be left behind because we were stupid and useless.”
The failure of the Steenhuisen commission to hold de Lille into account led to the first motion of no confidence vote that was tabled in February 2018.
De Lille survived it but only because opposition parties voted against it, with only 39 people from the DA showing support for her.
The members who voted for de Lille were named in a post sent by the Hands Off Alderman JP Smith Facebook page.
This led to further divisions within the party. It was always alleged that the war was really between de Lille and Smith. However, Smith denied this claim, stating that,
“I’m not a likeable person. I’m a hard worker. I don’t have cocktail parties in my office, I don’t have braais. My colleagues are my colleagues and never my friends. I don’t have that influence.”
After all of that to get rid of one person right before the 2019 elections, it remains to be seen whether that was all worth the strain it set in the party.Democratic Alliance, jp smith, News, Patricia de Lille
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