THE goings-on in the City of Cape Town can be summed up in a wonderfully expressive Afrikaans saying: “Bo bont, onder stront.” For those who are unfamiliar with Afrikaans, it translates roughly as “beautiful on the surface, [but] sh*t underneath.”
Who would have thought that Cape Town’s self-claimed status as the “best run city in South Africa” has been so overstated (and that’s putting it mildly)?
Like so many other cities and municipalities in the country, Cape Town, it seems, has officials who are as capable of, among others, maladministration, nepotism and corruption, much like some of their counterparts in other parts of the country. Who would have thought the City’s executive mayor, Patricia de Lille, or Aunty Patty to her doting followers, would be caught up in the centre of these allegations – and that members of her own party, the Democratic Alliance, would be baying for her blood?
It would not be an exaggeration to say that not too long ago De Lille was regarded as a global figure, with Harvard Economics Professor Edward Glaeser describing her as one of the “world’s best mayors”.
“Anyone who is interested in the future of Africa’s cities can learn from the wisdom of Mayor De Lille, he added. And in a coo and a kiss to “View from City Hall – Reflections on Governing Cape Town, a book penned by De Lille and her now sworn enemy, Craig Kesson, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote: “A valuable guide to how, with motivated and dynamic leadership, cities can lead the way on the most important issues.”
If the mayor’s critics are to be believed, the stories of her wonderful leadership skills have all been a lie. What the City has, they say, is a mayor who is far too friendly (and they speak about choosing their words carefully) with property developers. They accuse her of being rude and autocratic. On Sunday, while attending a service in the World Harvest Christian Church in Langa, where the congregation prayed for her to be retained as mayor of Cape Town, De Lille’s tough, “bring-it-on” mask, slipped slightly: she wept.
Perhaps it was because the severity of the battle she faced was beginning to dawn on her….
Three investigations into De Lille and the City, one of them headed by the DA’s rules guru, John Steenhuisen, have identified and confirmed issues so serious that the consensus is that she has become irreparably compromised – and that she must therefore step down, or be kicked out. She is, of course, not the type of person to stroll sadly into the sunset. She has indicated that she will robustly defend herself, and that if she is not given a fair hearing, she will go to the courts to state her case.
In many ways though, De Lille has, like Helen Zille, become a “yesterday person” in the DA’s project for 2019 and beyond. When she and her Independent Democrats joined the DA in 2010, she was seen as the person to bring the coloured vote to Zille’s still too white party. The DA has been prepared to act ruthlessly once it has achieved certain goals. With the coloured vote safely sealed and delivered, it is the African vote that has now become important.
The infighting in the City of Cape Town has given the party’s brains-trust a heaven-sent opportunity to shunt De Lille aside and bring in the City’s first DA African mayor, who obviously will say all the right things to allay the fears of its traditional support. It will be a risky ploy, but it should not be forgotten that the DA’s researchers are normally spot on. The first step will be to destroy De Lille….
Some of the allegations levelled at her revolve around nepotism and the hiring of friends in positions in the City. She is also accused of interfering with the work of the selection panel when City Manager Achmat Ebrahim reapplied for his position. This, of course, is nothing new. Politicians are known to manipulate jobs and job selection processes. A few years ago, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille “banished” a head of office in one of Western Cape government’s key department’s for more than three years of what was left on his contract because he had worked for the previous ANC regime.
Under De Lille’s watch, allegations of corruption have also come up with regard to the management of the MyCiti bus company. Although she has not been accused of any corruption in this respect, she has been accused of defending an official who has been implicated in this mess. De Lille’s management style has become a key issue in the debate that has raged around her position.
And it’s not only DA councillors who are not happy with her conduct….Organisations outside City Hall, who would normally have interacted closely with the City are also livid with her. “She’s autocratic,” said Len Swimmer, the deputy chairperson of the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, which represents more than 360 organisations around the city and in less affluent areas. “She doesn’t listen to anyone else. She makes her own decisions. She has a very highly centralised administration with her in control.
Swimmer said she’s not a person who should be at the head of a Metro in a democratic South Africa. “De Lille is a law unto herself. She refuses to listen anyone else. She makes all the rules, and has emasculated all the checks and balances that there once were in the City,” he said. Swimmer accused her of leading the citizens of Cape Town into a massive abyss. But, in an example of the type of interest groups the mayor of the city has to take into account, he accused De Lille of ignoring the help Israel could give to Cape Town in resolving its water crisis.
He said Israel were world leaders in desalination processes, but De Lille preferred to cut off her nose to spite her face in this regard. Philippi Horticultural Area farmer and social activist Nazeer Sonday is another who has had run-ins with De Lille. He described her as a “sum of many parts”, and he acknowledged that it would be impossible for her to be “everything to everybody”.
But he said: “As members of the disadvantaged people of Cape Town, we are disappointed by the way she has addressed our issues. “Our concerns centre on deep-rooted democratic matters. When we started a civic organisation in 2008, we structured it in such a way that our members consisted of had farmers, farmworkers and informal settlement delivery.
We worked for service delivery. We did the democracy thing. We tried to do everything by the book. “Now, we’re gatvol of democracy.”
“We were told there was going to be a new era. But it hasn’t panned out that way for us. We can’t continue to put up with this sh*t”, he said. “We went to see De Lille in 2012 to discuss service delivery issues in our area.” Sonday said she acted like a “patriarch”. De Lille’s attitude to those with a Struggle background who were prepared to work with her, raised a number of questions for Sonday and others.
In many ways, they were flabbergasted by the way she viewed the world. To them, the fact that she came from a Struggle background like them, suggested she would be different, that she would see things from a point of view of the poor. Her views on corruption, even though her moniker as a “fighter of corruption” was self-styled, also gave rise to confidence among the previously and still disadvantaged that she would ‘do the right thing”. And yet, when she was approached, she refused to listen.
Sonday said: “We went to her with a plan to improve the lives of people in our area, but she kicked us out. Later, she told a newspaper that our Powerpoint presentation was an idea to make money out of the City. This will come up in a court case later this year.”
“We believe that she is too involved with property developers. “Part of our case will centre on the fact that De Lille’s management style has centred on the removal of due process.” He accused De Lille of becoming the judge and the jury of all planning processes in Cape Town. “Under De Lille, the only way to effectively register our objections is to go to court. But for this we need money. We have had to raise R500 000 to go to court.”
In the introduction to “View from City Hall”, De Lille and Kesson wrote: “The City of Cape Town has achieved many successes in governing over the past decade. Much of the reason for that success has to do with the quality of leadership during what were some politically turbulent times.
It all rings rather hollow now….
Dougie Oakes has been a journalist for more than 30 years, specialising here and in the UK in sportswriting, politics and features