In William Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar", a prophet meets Caesar and tells him to beware the ides of March, forewarning him of the terrible danger that awaits him on March 15. As prophesied, Caesar was stabbed to death by a conspiracy led by his protégés and friends on March 15.
I was bemused by a statement from the speaker of Cape Town's city council, in which he announced that DA council members had tabled a motion of no confidence against mayor Patricia de Lille, and had decided to convene a special council sitting on February 15.
The irony of the speaker informing De Lille that on the ides of February, she will face her own tragic drama of conspiracy, betrayal and political character assassination, just as Julius Caesar faced on the ides of March.
In the play, there are central themes of betrayal, conspiracy and character assassination. We explore them below.
The conspiracy to oust De Lille was thrust into the spotlight by a story in IOL written by Jason Felix. It revealed a WhatsApp voice note sent by councillor Joy McCarthy
In the leaked audio, McCarthy can be heard wishing the deputy mayor a good year and hoping that all their plans materialise – and that in no time Ian Neilson will occupy the "hot seat". This voice-note exposed the existence of an internal conspiracy in the DA to oust De Lille as mayor and replace her.
Political analysts have assumed that Cape Town's "Game Of Thrones" was a fight between De Lille and an overly ambitious JP Smith. Yes, he is an important player in the conspiracy, but he is a pretender to the throne.
He is simply playing the role of a brash and impatient would-be-king. De Lille herself believes rumours that there are plans to have her replaced with DA provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela, but these are all smoke and mirrors – the aim of which is to divert attention away from the real challenger to the throne; Ian Neilson.
Neilson is a thoroughbred of the DA old boys club, he comes from the old guard, he has been in the Cape Town city council for nearly 22 years – he is a real Machiavellian backroom operator, who prefers to wield power in the shadows – and his grand scheme to take power is almost complete.
Xanthea is to De Lille what Brutus was to Julius Caesar – her dagger is the coldest, because it comes from someone so close. Et tu, Xanthea? Indeed, there are no permanent friends in politics.
The DA's federal executive council resolved that the principles of justice demand that the allegations against their mayoral deployee be tested in an appropriate platform, thereby acknowledging that due process and nothing less would satisfy the demands of justice.
The decision by the federal executive council to then turn around and approve the tabling of a motion of no confidence in De Lille is a betrayal of justice, a betrayal of De Lille, and even more tragically, a betrayal of the DA's classical liberal values of civil liberty under the rule of law.
For the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar to succeed, he had to be lured to a crowded place, to allow the conspirators the perfect opportunity to sneak up on him and execute their dirty plan and in all the noise and siphithiphithi (chaos), so no one would be the wiser.
With the recall/removal/transition of Jacob Zuma grabbing all the headlines, it creates the chaos and distraction the DA needs to shield the execution of the conspiracy to remove De Lille from heightened public scrutiny. The people of South Africa will be too fixated on the transition news breaking every hour in the media marketplace; De Lille's removal will be page three news and the immediate blowback will, therefore, be minimal.
Et tu, Xanthea?
Another analysis that has been lacking in public commentary is the role of councillor Xanthea Limberg – one of the people who came into the DA with De Lille in the DA/ID merger.
Limberg was a volunteer researcher in the ID Western Cape office, and her star was attached to the rise of De Lille in the City Council. In January 2018, the mayor appointed her mayoral committee member for informal settlements, utilities and energy – a powerful position with a large chunk of the city budget.
So in this war of attrition, you would expect to find her firmly behind the mayor – but all indications are that she is on the side of the conspirators. When De Lille was stripped of her powers to manage the Cape Town water crisis, those powers were given to Limberg and Ian Neilson.
Limberg is to De Lille what Brutus was to Julius Caesar – her dagger is the coldest, because it comes from someone so close. Et tu, Xanthea? Indeed, there are no permanent friends in politics.
In the story of Julius Caesar, the conspirators do manage to capture political power – but that victory is extremely short-lived. So the DA must also beware the ides of February.
"Julius Caesar" also provided social commentary – it was a critique of the propensity of human beings to exhibit sheeplike mentality; to be easily persuaded into supporting evils perpetrated by those with whom they seem to share political views. It was also a critique of how quickly loyalties shift, based on who orates best and orates last.
It appears that the DA is showing this callous disregard for due process – and this myopic pursuit of De Lille in the face of a water crisis – because it's relying on the sheeplike mentality of people. The DA arrogantly believes that a glossy info chart presented to the voter will make them forget that the DA fiddled while Cape Town dried up, forget that the DA violated the fundamental principles of natural justice, and that the DA boot-stomps strong black women in that organisation.
On February 15, 2018, the DA caucus in Cape Town will table a motion no confidence in mayor Patricia de Lille, but maybe that day doesn't spell doom only for her – but for the DA's as well
For even in the story of Julius Caesar, the conspirators do manage to capture political power – but that victory is extremely short-lived. So the DA must also beware the ides of February.