Opinion Piece

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar: ‘Day Zero’ catastrophe creeps ever closer in Cape Town as DA’s internal dysfunction deepens

Factionalism is embedded in the DA as it is embedded in South Africa’s politics. However, the trouble with the current internal political squabble around mayor Patricia De Lille is that it is impacting on the impending chaos that looms when the water is switched off across Cape Town.

Over the past decade, South Africa has been burdened with Jacob Zuma, while Cape Town has received the leadership, guidance and policies of the Democratic Alliance. Initially, Helen Zille led Cape Town under a broad coalition government in March 2006. There is no doubt that before then, Cape Town’s governance was marked with dysfunction, chaos, and unnecessary theatrics, silly headlines, wasteful expenditure and corruption, and so it was easy to replace that with the veneer of functionality, stability and a City that rendered so-called “world class” service.

However, Patricia de Lille (former PAC member, former ID leader and former DA leader of the Western Cape) is now under mounting pressure as the DA’s Federal Executive is set to meet on Sunday, 14 January to discuss the mechanisms to deal with her and whether, in particular, to seek her resignation.

The on-going provincial battles between the factions of the African National Congress in the Western Cape have ensured that no meaningful opposition has been able to counter the continued growth of the DA both in the City and across the Province. Zille returned to the position of Premier in 2014, and in 2016, De Lille was ensured a second term as Mayor. The lack of a meaningful opposition to the DA has been entrenched by the need for politicians within the ANC (in particular, Jacob Zuma, Marius Fransman and, more recently, Duduzane Zuma) to frequently meet with the Cape underworld, or seeking to either position favourable stories in the press, or the ANC’s own inability to confront corruption and rot within its own party. 

The result of all of this is that Cape Town (and now the Western Cape) has been used as the blueprint for how the DA would govern. It has been used as a cornerstone of the DA’s electoral message rattling against the ANC (in particular during the Zuma years) and a message that has secured votes across the country, and in 2016 ensured that the DA would establish coalition governments in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth. The DA continues to position itself as the alternative to the ANC. However, South Africans should be reminded that there are no saviours waiting in the wings. South Africa’s politics is not exceptional. The ANC’s fall from grace should not surprise us. We must be reminded that expediency and short-lived allegiances that we have often witnessed on the national stage in the ANC, also have a home in the DA and all other political parties.

Cape Town has showcased the DA’s ability to lead, to provide stability, to rely on so-called meritocracy. However, in the wake of the on-going headlines, South Africans must reconsider how much they are willing to trust political parties, especially those offering an alternative message of exceptionalism. Yet, we now see allegations of corruption, irregular expenditure and underhanded tactics all being made against DA members by fellow DA members. Cape Town has allowed the DA to grow its own base, to perfect its messaging, to elect new leaders, and to introduce a suite of black leaders to the electorate. However, the events of the past year have highlighted the factional battles within the DA, which has gone public because De Lille has refused to simply go quietly.  This is not the first battle for power within the DA and it will not be the last.

During these ten years, Cape Town has received a number of awards, but more accurately, Cape Town has positioned itself and sought out a number of awards. Still, the branding and positioning that South Africa’s beacon of exceptionalism is housed in Cape Town is fundamentally flawed. Poverty, inequality and unemployment remain unchallenged. The tale of two Cape Towns remains entrenched, where black South Africans continue to feel excluded. There has been no alternative viewpoint, there has been no meaningful opposition to confront the DA that wants South Africans to entrust it with their votes in its campaign to bring the ANC below 50% nationally.

The strategic leaks to the media, the ramping up of evidence, the positioning and the use of resources appear all designed and focused to pressure De Lille in to resigning as Mayor of Cape Town. From its origins, the DA appears committed to the idea of change and to do so visually and visibly. The DA is home to those that are aspirational, those that are ambitious and also those that once belonged to another political party (such as De Lille) and that comes with a particular type of baggage that cannot be shaken. Factionalism is embedded in the DA as it is embedded in South Africa’s politics. However, the trouble with this internal political squabble is that it is impacting on the impending chaos (which in part has been exacerbated by the City’s leadership these past ten years) that looms when the water is switched off across Cape Town.

We should not forget that looming “Day Zero” eventuality in Cape Town would be catastrophic, especially for the poorest residents that are still waiting to receive that “world class” service delivery from the City of Cape Town. Residents that continue to struggle with the real threat of poverty, violence, crime, gangsterism, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, rape, drug addiction. “Day Zero” will not be a new concept to the hundreds of thousands that continue to struggle in the beacon of exceptionalism that is Cape Town that has been revealed as a flawed veneer that has disappeared now that the rain has stopped falling.

How resilient is Cape Town and the DA in the wake of the worst drought in 100 years? While the DA continues the internal party squabbles, Cape Town fast approaches “Day Zero” when the taps will be shut, a plan designed by the DA-led municipality to confront the catastrophe that looms closer each week. The squabble is apparently about good governance and stamping out corruption, but all the signs are that this is a power play by factions within the DA and that De Lille is now expendable.

If the DA is serious about good governance and about showcasing its policies then it should start talking about plans to deal with “Day Zero”, desalination within the City and Province and how it plans to implement “Day Zero”. The DA-led City should start addressing issues around inequality and pressing issues such as social housing and sanitation that remain unanswered. The City and the DA need to prove that they are indeed fit for purpose to the more than three million that call Cape Town home. DM