15/01/2018 12:48 SAST | Updated 15/01/2018 12:49 SAST

Patricia De Lille And The Battle For The Soul Of Cape Town

"How can you lose confidence in a person without them having done anything to warrant that loss of confidence?"

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
Gianluigi Guercia/ AFP/ Getty Images
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.


The city of Cape Town with the DA at the helm had for years pursued an agenda of "transformation of a special type". This was anchored by the DA's principle of equal opportunity, a highly criticised policy that purported to present equal opportunity to an unequal society with unequal access to those equal opportunities.

This approach ultimately led to cosmetic changes at a very superficial level, but failed to deliver any substantive changes that would alter the structural nature of the city's inequality.

A push for radical change

De Lille went too far when, under her administration, the city began to concretise plans to pursue substantive changes that would alter the colonial and apartheid structure of the city.

Cape Town had been divided into two towns –– one a colonial town with manicured lawns, clean streets, 12 museums, 40 health facilities, four theatres, an abundance of streetlighting, Model C schools and university campuses on the doorstep. This town was for the settler and his children.

The other town was the colonised town –– with little street lighting, inadequate infrastructure, an abundance of beer halls, litter choking the streets, restless bodies in the heat subconsciously raging against being pressed into tiny tin shacks like sardines. This town is for the colonised, the dispossessed and the landless.

De Lille sought to break the back of apartheid spatial planning and colonial patterns of access to the city.

She led the city council to adopt the organisational development and transformation plan on August 24, 2016. Based on that plan, her executive then identified 10 sites that would be used to build low-cost housing to bring the poor into the heart of the city. The sites identified were in Woodstock, Salt River and the inner city.

These plans to bring the poor into the enclave of white colonial privilege was a break from the DA modus operandi of giving the poor services and infrastructure in their own townships –– to a new dawn of integrated spatial planning to bring the poor, who are in the majority black African and coloured, into areas where infrastructure already exists and work opportunities are found.

That De Lille will be removed by the DA federal executive is a foregone conclusion – she has made a lot of powerful enemies.

Money and politics

These plans to bring the poor into the city naturally found resistance from white property barons, who were making staggering returns from gentrification in areas such as the inner city, Salt River and Woodstock. There are billions of rands to be made by wealthy property speculators, provided they can push the poor out and guarantee the rich freedom from the inconvenience of poor neighbours.

The Central City Improvement District, a public-private partnership formed by CBD property owners, has announced that average prices in the city for an entry-level studio apartment were now R2.3-million. Therefore anyone earning R1,000 to R 50,000 a month can't afford to live in the Cape Town city centre.

The property barons would obviously fight any plans to bring the poor into the city, as they view the poor as representing criminality, uncleanliness, and social ills –– and this would threaten their continued ability to monopolise all the opportunities in the city centre. This plan by De Lille had to be fought by any and all means.

Fait accompli

That De Lille will be removed by the DA federal executive is a foregone conclusion –– she has made a lot of powerful enemies. The decision seems to have been taken already –– what was needed was an investigation that would unearth any grounds to justify the decision, but it seems nothing tangible has come up.

As a result, the DA has been shifting the goalposts. It has even lowered the burden of proof for itself.

James Selfe told SABC News that the federal executive did not need to find De Lille guilty of anything –– it's simply a matter of whether the federal executive has faith in her to continue as mayor.

This is an astonishingly low standard to meet for the removal of a mayor who has managing the worst drought in 100 years. Questions naturally arise as to how you can lose confidence in a person without them having done anything to warrant that loss of confidence.

The war is not over

De Lille will definitely lose the battle inside the DA federal executive, and the structure will resolve to remove her as mayor –– but that will not be the end of this matter, as it will then move to other spaces.

Getty Images
Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille cleaning up graffiti on walls for International Nelson Mandela Day on July 18, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Nasief Manie/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)


De Lille is most likely to appeal the decision to remove her in the Cape High Court. She will argue it was irrational and unlawful, and most certainly raise issues of breach of due process, failure to give her a fair hearing and administrative injustice.

City council

The DA will instruct its members on the Cape Town city council to bring a motion of no confidence in De Lille and remove her. This motion will not have the support of opposition parties in the council, as they have already indicated they do not support what they view as the persecution of the mayor.


The strategic communications war is likely to continue in the media, with allegations and counter-allegations, leaks and counter-leaks continuing for weeks, if not months. Both sides are very eager to win the public-relations aspect of this war, with De Lille having engaged in a media blitz that included radio, TV, print and social media.

AFP/Getty Images
Democratic Alliance Leader Mmusi Maimane (L) and DA Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille (R) lead thousands of South African main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) supporters marching to the Constitutional Court to protest against South African President Jacob Zuma on April 15, 2016 in Johannesburg. South African municipal elections are set to be contested on August 3. / AFP / MUJAHID SAFODIEN (Photo credit should read MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

A war the DA can't win

The continued pursuit of this matter makes the DA come off as bullies. The public can't take anything away from this sorry saga besides perceptions that an untransformed racist organisation continues a long tradition of boot-stomping any strong-willed independent black woman who dares to think for herself, the same as they did with Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mbali Ntuli and Mamphela Ramphele.

These factional cracks starting to appear are in stark contrast to the public display of unity by the ANC, and they will hurt the DA badly in the upcoming general election.

De Lille: life after the party

Patricia still has at least six months as mayor. She could instigate someone to revive her old Independent Democrats (ID) party –– the media attention she will continue to get for the next six months could be shared with the party, and she could use that time to lobby her supporters in the city administration, council and the public to support the ID.

She could thus create a safety net for herself for when she's finally pushed out.

De Lille is a strong, experienced and capable black woman, and what the DA is doing to her and has done to other black women leaves a sour taste.