Rebellion and insurrection: A kind of farewell to Patricia De Lille

181118. Patricia De Lille announcing her new political party that will be launched soon. She makes the announcement at the Sun Hotel in Cape Town. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Patricia De Lille finally resigned as councilor and Mayor of the City of Cape Town. She unsurprisingly also resigned as the Member of the Democratic Alliance,  a party she represented for 8 years in the Council Chambers both as Councillor and as Mayor, adding her signature to this City’s story that goes as far back as the 1830s.

History has been made in the now 231 horseshoe member council chamber that rises from the Mayors podium towards the guests gallery. As the ANC, the first to govern the now fully fledged Metropolis, we take full credit for creating a city apparatus, the thousands of City by laws, its enforcement, under a Mayor that was uncompromising in the enforcement of by-laws even to ANC leadership. Nomaindia Mfeketho is not celebrated enough for laying the foundation for a world class City that would become Cape Town.

Many policies and by laws have been passed in the chamber, whether it is rates by-laws, traffic by-laws, Industrial by-laws, the City’s story has been shaped in those chambers. There has been the screaming at one another, the walkouts, throwing of budgets documents and reports on the floor, hugging and laughing, all jostling and pushing to make a last minute change to a policy or law and sometimes to just irritate the opponent into obedience. Its been a political theater that has enriched those who have been fully present.

There are many memorable moments to pick from in the eventful chamber, but my mind keeps going back to this one moment that seemed to define an end of political contestation as we know it, into something not yet fully understood,  frightening beast of the wild, that in future may ultimately destroy the chamber and whatever little effectiveness it may continue to have.

The City of Cape Town, Infront of special guests and on national television, came close to mutiny as any local authority could ever get, when DA members of this august house, in an unprecedented and shocking move of rebellion and insurrection, turned their backs on their own Mayor, a silent coup that was intended to both overthrow her authority and humiliate her infront of the country and the world.

I still struggle to describe how that incident made me feel. Even as the ANC I almost felt like screaming ‘this is the Mayor you imbeciles’. You are members of this august house you nincompoops, show some class. But it was clear that the boat had already sailed. Standing before us was a stranger, who in the eyes of the DA had no right to even be in the house, especially in the name of the DA. That fateful day, the DA lost a piece of itself and from then on, the biggest threat to any DA leader has always be its own members than opposition. On 25 October 2018, that threat has come full circle.

The relationship between the ANC councilors and Mayor Patricia De Lille has been one of ‘contestation and cooperation’. From her very first speech in Council, De Lille seemed to understand that her fight would be against ‘institutionalized racism’ and discrimination, which would define her term in many ways. This was true because not only was she a member of a party that is viewed as the protectors of white privilege, she was also part of one of the most neglected groups of Western Cape society.

From that very speech, ANC saw clearly that De Lille understands the problem, and understands both the nature of the problem and its complication.  However, she had no vision and no incisive plan to deal with it in  a manner that would upend its organized and devastating form, and her failure to even move the niddle even just a little,  may well be a defining feature of her poor legacy.

De Lille failed to appreciate at the beginning of her first term that the City of Cape Town was a silent ‘Group Areas Act’ of a town, which her predecessor, particularly Helen Zille had expanded and entrenched.

It would be during De Lilles term that white communities in Cape Town became more overt in embracing their silent ‘Group Areas Act’, with one shameful incident where this white Cape neighborhood daringly gave black people dom passes for a right to be in this neighborhood. De Lille, a black woman, remained silent, a black Mayor of an affluent and powerful City, was powerless to do anything.

De Lille would go on to adopt the ignorance of her new masters that somehow economic growth and poverty reduction were the cure to racism. She had no clear and separate plan, which would inconvenience white privilege. She could never tell her bosses that upending institutionalized racism will require an activist council and crushing old privileges. Helen Zille and Dan Plato had maintained the Apartheid imbalances of the past, keeping the white elites at the top of the franchise with a few blacks to protect the collective privilege. Under De Lille as a white proxy, White racists in Cape Town became more emboldened.

DA and De Lille’s record also does not cover them in much glory. When DA took over the city in 2006, the city had some 227 informal settlements. At the end of Patricia’s tenure, the City has 437 informal settlements, almost double the number since the party took over. Spatial development has gotten deeper, inequality have risen to levels incompatible with the entire world and black socio-economic burdens have deepened.

When DA took over, the residents of Cape Town owed the City just over a Billion in rates. At the end of De Lille’s tenure, residents owe over R8bn in rates. We have gotten deeper in debt, the yoke of rates has gotten heavier and the social exclusion has only gotten higher as gentrification has become the dark mission of this City.

In 2010, Olusola Olufemi stated that Cape Town had 900 homeless people. Today, we have over 8000 homeless people. De Lille’s poverty reduction goal has been a devastating failure. What De Lille failed to understand is that economic development built on structural and racial inequalities means only those at the top of the pyramid will exponentially grow and everyone else will be lumped in averages and per capita calculations. Black people were poor and socially excluded. A specific and aggressive programme was needed to address that. When Patricia took over the City, black people had nothing; after two terms, black people have less than nothing.

Patricia De Lille promised in her maiden speech to build the city on 5 interrelated pillars. ‘An opportunity city, a safe city, a caring city, an inclusive city and an efficient city’. As the 5 Councillors who have just resigned, along with endless protests from colored communities, along with the African communities, this is no opportunity city, the municipality does not care, black people feel excluded and they only see efficiency when they visit the other side of town.

7 years without a coloured or African agenda means De Lille has wasted almost all her term peddling the interests of the old white guard that sees the DA and municipalities it governs as an expression of white power. They have effectively used the black vote to secure white interests. On 25 October 2018, and the Democratic Alliance literally collapsed in the Council Chambers on this one unyielding black pain; Institutional racism. 5 DA Councillors, including a Chief Whip, resigned with one common thread; the DA is a racist party that victimizes black leaders.

The problem with institutionalized racism is that it is systemic; it is faceless, and sometimes hides behind Ideology. When you are challenged to point it, you struggle, but you know you are being treated differently, when you demand your rights, you are told about Merit. These DA Councilors however had enough. Without a solid African and Colored vote for the DA, this may well be the beginning of the end for the party. Institutional Racism became the straw that broke the camel’s back!!

De Lille is now embarking on a new political journey. This is a golden opportunity to reinvent herself and build a new legacy, one that can give African and Coloured poeple a reason to believe her, not as an opportunist who will serve an master that pays her bond, but one that will be an uncompromising champion of the less privileged.

We wish her well and are confident that she will further enrich the political landscape in the Province and country.

Yonela Diko is the ANC Western Cape Spokesperson.