Patricia de Lille has riled the Democratic Alliance to such an extent that most of the party’s leaders can’t wait to see the back of her because she has exposed the gaping cracks in the DA which for the longest time have been covered up by polyfilla.

But for another week (and a bit), De Lille will still be Cape Town mayor despite the incompetent machinations of a political machine which had underestimated her on more than just one occasion. Going against the Western Cape High Court order which reinstated her back to her position on Tuesday, the DA released a cynical press statement in response, saying that De Lille was only a “ceremonial” mayor, and that she had lost the confidence of the party’s caucus.

There remains debate over when exactly De Lille’s problems started within the DA, some point to the immediate aftermath of the 2016 local government elections, while others point to the way in which she was “handed” Cape Town’s mayoral chain in 2011.

But over the last seven years De Lille has not made friends within the DA caucus, where she often scolded senior managers and her colleagues.

Unlike her predecessor Dan Plato, De Lille used her power to effect change despite the DA’s “minders”, like current DA CEO Paul Boughey, being placed in her office.

The history books will show that support for De Lille’s Independent Democrats’ collapsed spectacularly at the 2009 general elections.

Former DA leader Helen Zille salvaged De Lille’s political future, in a quid pro quo of sorts after the latter had bolstered the DA’s then wonky coalition which ran Cape Town in 2007.

In 2010 just after South Africa had their fill of “Phillip”, De Lille crossed the floor to the DA in a move which was supposed to bolster the DA’s electoral fortunes in the Western Cape- coalescing coloured nationalists, (white) liberals and all those who could not stomach Jacob Zuma’s ANC.

Inside the City of Cape Town, white DA councillors expressed unhappiness at the prospect of De Lille as their mayor, saying that she had not “renounced” the Pan Africanist Congress slogan of “One Settler, One Bullet”.

The marriage was always going to be rocky with De Lille and the ID, perhaps having more in common with the ANC than the DA whose socio economic policy prescriptions, in the main, remains right wing.

For these reasons the DA’s caucus in the City of Cape Town have been deeply divided in two (or perhaps three) camps,  but victories at the ballot box masked those tensions and contradictions.

De Lille spoke of a redress policy when she took over mayoral chain in 2011, instead the contrary has happened with more working class people being forced out of Cape Town’s inner city by gentrifying property developers.

Some in the party say the DA’s two-thirds majority, attained in 2016, for the City of Cape Town went to the head of De Lille, the story being that she claimed sole credit for the victory.

But that spectacular victory, and the DA wrestling power from the ANC in Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay perhaps had more to do with the numerous scandals which blighted Zuma’s ANC.

While the DA had its eye on perhaps taking control of Gauteng after next year’s general elections, the De Lille saga has exposed the tensions within the party which in all likelihood will turn off the black voters the party so dearly needs.

Whichever way this story concludes, the tensions with De Lille have exposed the contradictions the DA have been nursing for while as its growth have attracted more supporters from other political parties who don’t quite identify themselves as classical liberals. 

Quinton Mtyala is Independent Media’s Western Cape Politics Editor. 

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