15/01/2018 14:05 SAST | Updated 15/01/2018 14:06 SAST

Patricia De Lille: A Lifetime Fighting Political Battles

A profile of the Cape Town mayor reveals a political survivor – from shop steward, to becoming the first woman to lead a South African political party.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Early political career

Patricia de Lille first entered the political ena as a shop steward for the South African Chemical Workers' Union (SACWU). She later became the regional secretary, and thereafter served on the union's national executive committee (NEC).

Eventually, she ended up in the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) in Western Cape, which was affiliated to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

In 1989, she was elected to the NEC of the Pan Africanist Movement (PAM), a wing of the PAC. When the PAC and other political organisations were unbanned in 1990, she was appointed foreign secretary and relief and aid secretary of the party.

During the Codesa negotiations, De Lille led the PAC delegation. After the first democratic elections, she was appointed a member of Parliament. Between 1994 and 1999, she was the chairperson of the transport committee and the chief whip for the PAC in Parliament.

She also served in various portfolio committees,including health, mineral and energy, trade and industry, communication, the rules committee and the code of ethics committee.

The Independent Democrats

Ironically, de Lille used the very same rule of floor crossing that she fiercely opposed in Parliament to break away from the Pan Africanist Congress and form her own political party, the Independent Democrats, in 2003.

The party was the first political party in South Africa to be led by a woman that contested elections and won seats.

In 2004, she was elected a chancellor of the Durban University of Technology (DUT).

She has been vocal on many sensitive issues –– corruption, HIV/Aids, women and child abuse, children in prison, xenophobia and poverty.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Opposition Independent Democrats (ID) leader Patricia de Lille waves to supporters as she takes her election campaign to the streets of Cape Town March 27, 2004. The ID is one of several smaller parties contesting South Africa's upcoming general elections. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings REUTERS MH/FMS

Forming the Democratic Alliance

Despite the influence and momentum that De Lille's party had managed to attract as the ID, she made an interesting political move.

In 2010, the ID merged with the Democratic Alliance (DA), realising it would be a stronger force against the ANC. Helen Zille, at the time leader of DA, said she hoped their alliance would capitalise on growing frustrations with the ANC over crime and the provision of education, healthcare and electricity.

At the time, South Africa was facing its first recession in 17 years, under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma.

De Lille has served the party ever since in various positions, and is currently the mayor of Cape Town.

The Arms Deal

De Lille was the initial whistleblower on the infamous arms-deal corruption.

Formally known as the strategic defence package, the arms deal was a multibillion-rand military acquisition project finalised in 1999 by the South African government.

The deal gave rise to major corruption and excessive public spending –– two problems that persist today in government.


During the 2004 general election, disgruntled former members of the ID accused De Lille of running the party in a "undemocratic" manner.

De Lille told reporters that the dissenters had been fired from the party for fraud and corruption.

As mayor of Cape Town, de Lille has been perceived to have a conflict of interest, regarding private-sector developments in Clifton by friends of hers.

She was investigated by the party and formerly charged for misconduct. This follows recommendations by the party's federal executive subcommittee.

A leaked subcommittee document alleged that De Lille had interfered in appointments of senior management, had an irrational, autocratic and divisive leadership style, and stripped key decision-making structures if their power.


She was awarded the HIV/Aids activist award by Canadian-based organisation South African Women For Women, and is one of only five South Africans honiured with the freedom of the city of Birmingham Alabama, a major location associated with the U.S. civil rights struggle.

In 2004, De Lille was named one of the Top Five Women in Government and Government Agencies. She was also awarded the 2004 Old Mutual South African Leadership Award in the category of woman leadership.

In July 2006, she became the first woman to be recognised as an honorary colonel of 84 Signal Unit in the South African National Defence Force.

In August 2006, she received the City Press and Rapport newspaper award as one of top 10 women in South Africa.

A Markinor survey conducted in 2004 found that De Lille was South Africa's favourite politician after Thabo Mbeki.

Charles Platiau / Reuters
From L to R: Mauricio Rodas, mayor of Quito, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, former New York City Mayor and founder of Bloomberg L.P. Michael Bloomberg, Barcelona's Mayor Ada Colau and Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala pose together during a two-day summit of the C40 Cities initiative, a network of cities making plans to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions along levels agreed upon in Paris two years ago, in Paris, France, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau