DA vs Cape Town mayor: Quo Vadis, Patricia de Lille?
Just hours after news broke that criminal charges had been laid against Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, the embattled mayor hit back (again). But with D-Day for the motion of no confidence looming, De Lille is not showing any signs of giving up. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
On Sunday afternoon, a defiant Patricia De Lille issued a media statement denying criminal charges of bribery and corruption laid against her by the Democratic Alliance (DA). She had not been notified of the charges by the SAPS but rejected the claims “with contempt”, she said.
“Based on media reports today, it has come to my attention that criminal charges have apparently been laid against me by the Democratic Alliance.
“I have not been formally notified of these charges by the South African Police Service (SAPS).
“Should criminal charges have been laid against me, I will co-operate openly and transparently with the SAPS.
“I deny and reject the reported allegations with the contempt it deserves,” she said.
Her statement followed reports that the DA had laid criminal charges against De Lille after a Gauteng businessman, Anthony Faul, claimed De Lille had requested a “payment” relating to a potential deal involving automatic fire extinguishers. The alleged incident took place in 2012.
Faul filed an affidavit in which he alleged De Lille told him by telephone that he stood to make a great deal of money from the deal. According to Faul, De Lille asked for R5-million.
The affidavit alleges that De Lille, whose voice Faul says he recognised, called from an unknown number and identified herself as Patricia De Lille. She allegedly told him he stood to make over R20-million from the deal.
“I told her I would definitely not be making R20m out of this transaction, as I have to pay agents commission and tax and that I would clear approximately R10m,” the affidavit reads.
“She told me that I would be a rich man and as she procured the transaction for me, what is in it for her. I replied that I don’t understand, as I would be delivering a product and service to the City of Cape Town.
“She then replied that for the deal to proceed, she would need a payment in the amount of R5m from me, otherwise she would withdraw the letter. I advised her that I do not have that kind of money available.”
According to the affidavit, which has been publicised, De Lille retorted that “it would be easy to procure the funds from a financial institution”. Faul claims he told De Lille this amounted to bribery and corruption, to which De Lille allegedly responded that he must “think carefully”. According to Faul, following continued refusals on his part, the deal did not go through.
DA Federal Chairperson James Selfe confirmed to media on Sunday that the charges had been laid. He said De Lille had been informed via her legal team before the charges were laid. He described the alleged incident as “a request on the part of Miss de Lille for a gratification some years ago”. He also argued that it was legally mandatory to lay charges if one knew of a possible crime that had been committed.
De Lille’s denial of the allegations was brief but to the point.
“The timing of this latest move raises many questions, such as why this man, Anthony Faul, is conveniently coming forward now when the DA is charging me for other matters,” said a statement issued from De Lille’s private account, not through official City channels or via her spokesperson, Zara Nicholson.
“Firstly, why did he go to the DA first instead of going to the police? Why did he wait almost five years to make these allegations?
“This seems to be the latest of a string of moves to taint my name by clutching at anything and informing the media before allegations are properly tested.
“I have repeatedly asked for a fair process yet the handling of this matter and the treatment towards me are clearly attempts to sway public perception against me instead of giving me a fair opportunity to state my case and to test the allegations properly.”
She repeated her assertion that attempts to remove her from her post as mayor were “desperate”.
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that the concerted efforts to damage my reputation and the haste to get rid of me is reaching desperate heights each day.”
De Lille on Sunday said in an interview with eNCA that the DA was employing a communication strategy in which it was consistently repeating the same message in the hope of instilling it in the minds of the public. The party has not responded to this allegation.
De Lille has been named in a series of scandals, including a recent report that the Auditor General had downgraded the City of Cape Town’s audit findings from clean to unqualified. The City has had a long record of clean audits, but City Press reported that the Auditor General found there had been governance and leadership failures under De Lille’s watch.
De Lille has intimated that the DA is scapegoating her, noting: “I also have to ask whether any similar attacks have been made by other party leaders against the mayors of both the City of Johannesburg and Tshwane, who also received unqualified audits with findings for the past financial year, while Nelson Mandela Bay received a qualified audit.”
As the accusations pile up, a critical question is what comes next for De Lille. For her part, she has made it clear that she is not going down without a fight, peppering her responses with alternate promises to respect process but also to “sue the hell” out of anyone who falsely accuses her.
This has been followed up with an allusion in a Sunday Times interview to constructive dismissal, which in De Lille’s words describes “where they just pile up everything against you”.
In legal terms, constructive dismissal is a little more complex: Section 186 (1) (e) of the Labour Relations Act says constructive dismissal means that an employee terminated a contract of employment (rather than being fired or removed) because the employer made continued employment intolerable. The South African Labour Guide describes the “basics” as “a situation in the workplace, which has been created by the employer, and which renders the continuation of the employment relationship intolerable for the employee – to such an extent that the employee has no other option available but to resign.”
It cites Jooste v Transnet Ltd t/a SA Airways (1995) 16 ILJ 629 (LAC), noting that “the first test was whether, when resigning, there was no other motive for the resignation – in other words, the employee would have continued the employment relationship indefinitely had it not been for the employer’s unacceptable conduct.” This, then, would be open to interpretation by the legal teams involved, depending on the circumstances of De Lille’s exit – should she exit.
Beyond the question of whether the motion of no confidence is successful is her future political home, if any. She first has to face down a motion of no confidence and, now, criminal charges. But should she ultimately be in a position to continue a political career, there is the question of where and how.
De Lille had not responded to Daily Maverick’s follow-up query at the time of publication.
It seems inconceivable at this stage that the breach between De Lille and her party can be repaired. Her relationship began with the DA when her party, the Independent Democrats, merged with it in August 2010. Prior to that, De Lille had been a leader of the Pan Africanist Congress.
Her supporters have argued, like De Lille herself, that she is serving as a scapegoat for the DA’s leadership and governance failures – failures the DA readily criticises in the country’s ruling party, the ANC. But the DA says it is, on the contrary, acting swiftly to root out corruption.
However, whether she is ultimately found guilty of corruption or not, the storm around De Lille has been a catalyst for much of the party’s factionalism to come to a head – which may do lasting reputational damage. Maimane, certainly, seems to be aware of this, warning against factionalism in the Western Cape and beyond.
As for De Lille, there have been suggestions that doors may open elsewhere. The motion of no confidence tabled against her by the DA followed a flip-flop by the ANC, in which it withdrew its own motion of no confidence against De Lille. Later, ANC Western Cape leader Xolile Sotashe said it did not rule out the possibility of welcoming De Lille into the ANC itself. “Anything is possible. There is no dustbin for a human being,” Sotashe said.
In the meantime, the rift between De Lille and her party is deepening, with public criticism mounting.
As for De Lille, she is insisting the allegations are unproven. “This seems to be the latest of a string of moves to taint my name by clutching at anything and informing the media before allegations are properly tested,” she said on Sunday. But the question is how long that “string of moves” can still grow before the damage to De Lille, the DA and the City itself are irreparable.
The motion of no confidence is set to be debated by the City Council on 15 February. DM
File Photo: Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille delivers a speech during a press conference for the Citylab in Paris, France, 23 October 2017. EPA-EFE/ETIENNE LAURENT