You strike a rock I have al­ways been an ac­tivist. I will die an ac­tivist. Cape Town is where I started

Eight years is a long time in pol­i­tics, es­pe­cially when it comes to Pa­tri­cia de Lille. The ju­bi­la­tion of her DA wed­ding has long evap­o­rated, and the party has dis­cov­ered that when you strike this woman . . .

Sunday Times - - News Tabletalk - By CLAIRE KEETON

● The only un­tidy thing in Pa­tri­cia de Lille’s may­oral of­fice is a stack of files piled on a round ta­ble. There are also a few gaps be­tween the photographs hung neatly on the walls. She picks up a framed pic­ture from where it had been ly­ing face down on the pile and shows it to us. It is a photo of her­self with DA leader Mmusi Maimane, his arm around her shoul­ders. It has been re­moved from her wall of fame, where it used to hang along­side pic­tures of De Lille with Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Mariah Carey and oth­ers.

The de­moted photograph is a clear sign that the DA’s once con­ve­nient mar­riage to De Lille has failed, fol­low­ing her sus­pen­sion in Oc­to­ber from party ac­tiv­i­ties af­ter al­le­ga­tions of mis­man­age­ment in the city

De Lille, whose may­oral chain ev­i­dently hasn’t blunted her street­fighter in­stincts, warned the DA from the start of the dis­ci­plinary process against her that she would go to court if nec­es­sary.

In her sub­mis­sions to the party on Wednes­day, De Lille hit back at a mo­tion of no con­fi­dence that was passed against her the pre­vi­ous week, call­ing the al­le­ga­tions un­named, un­spec­i­fied and lack­ing in de­tail.

This is a woman who rose to promi­nence as a tough ne­go­tia­tor more than 25 years ago, as head of the PAC del­e­ga­tion dur­ing South Africa’s con­sti­tu­tional talks, and who went on to play a ma­jor role in ex­pos­ing the arms deal cor­rup­tion. She was never sim­ply go­ing to bow out of the ring.

Cam­paigner from the Ka­roo

Born in Beaufort West, De Lille grew up to be an African­ist and work­ing-class leader. She did not seem a nat­u­ral match with the DA — it was like pair­ing a loud-mouthed suf­fragette and a stiff-up­per-lipped Vic­to­rian gen­tle­man. But the pas­sion she brought to their union was promis­ing at first. Both stood to gain: the DA would get more Cape Town votes; De Lille would get the power to bring about real change.

“When I was an op­po­si­tion MP for 15 years, I would think about what to say to­day,” says De Lille, 67. “When you are in gov­ern­ment, you think about what to do to­day. You have the sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing re­sults.”

She be­came mayor in 2011 af­ter serv­ing less than a year in the West­ern Cape ex­ec­u­tive un­der premier He­len Zille, who had wooed the In­de­pen­dent Democrats leader into the DA. They still meet ev­ery month, says De Lille. “I could see my­self liv­ing out the DA’s val­ues at the time: re­dress, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, delivery and diver­sity. I re­mem­ber say­ing to He­len Zille: ‘These are the things I fought for in the strug­gle against apartheid.’ ”

Her en­ergy — she rou­tinely works 16 hours a day — and no-holds-barred style are leg­endary, giv­ing rise to spec­u­la­tion that the ANC and EFF are lin­ing up as suit­ors fol­low­ing her rup­ture with the DA.

On top of her work, her ef­forts to clear her name now con­sume all her per­sonal time and she no longer plays golf on Sun­day morn­ings.

“I’m putting 120% ef­fort into this,” says De Lille, whose eyes show a fa­tigue at odds with her an­i­mated ges­tures. “This is my fight with the DA. We are all equal be­fore the law. Just give me a fair process.”

Last month she held more than 25 com­mu­nity meet­ings, typ­i­cally at night.

“We have been talk­ing about land in­va­sions and try­ing to find so­lu­tions to­gether. This is bet­ter than com­mu­ni­ties go­ing to the streets with protests and de­struc­tion.”

De­spite her en­gage­ments and prom­ises they per­sist. This week the streets of Mitchells Plain were on fire with vi­o­lent protests around ser­vice delivery.

When we ar­rive De Lille greets us with a hug, as she does ev­ery­one.

“I’ve got this thing of hug­ging ev­ery­one,” she says. “At the in­ter­na­tional jazz fes­ti­val, I bumped into [Pres­can’t ident Cyril] Ramaphosa and I hugged him. Then ev­ery­one on Twit­ter starts spec­u­lat­ing I’m go­ing to the ANC.

“Two weeks later I was in­vited by the EFF to speak at Mama Win­nie’s me­mo­rial. They knew I’d been close to her so they asked me, but then ev­ery­one says I’m go­ing to the EFF.”

When De Lille broke away from the PAC to form the In­de­pen­dent Democrats dur­ing a floor-cross­ing win­dow in par­lia­ment, it looked as though she had a clear po­lit­i­cal tra­jec­tory. Now her fu­ture is up in the air.

“I would like to plan my fu­ture but I can­not even get to that point un­til I’ve been able to clear my name and rep­u­ta­tion, which have been pub­licly smeared with al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. It doesn’t mat­ter where I go, to an­other po­lit­i­cal party or civil so­ci­ety, I make a de­ci­sion un­til I’ve cleared this cloud hang­ing over my head.”

De Lille, who has had cancer of the lar­ynx, has a dis­tinc­tive voice that has got plenty of time on the air­waves re­cently. She has also turned to Twit­ter to con­test the DA’s al­le­ga­tions against her.

Bat­tle of the heavy­weights

Af­ter the vote of no con­fi­dence on April 25 she posted a photo of her­self in box­ing gloves on Twit­ter with the words: “Next round! Let’s go!” She had posed in front of a news­pa­per poster say­ing: “Don’t let racists speak for you.”

The gloves were a gift and the idea came from a staff mem­ber. De Lille says: “The way I see it, you win one round and lose one round. I want to get to that knock­out stage to clear my name.”

She may be on the back foot, but she still has a pow­er­ful punch that could harm the DA. “Ev­ery day I get thou­sands of mes­sages of sup­port from across the coun­try,” she says.

Her hus­band, Ed­win, and four huskies at home, her chil­dren Car­men and Al­lis­tair, and her staff at the of­fice pro­vide great sup­port. De Lille still draws strength from her late fa­ther, a teacher who taught her about African pride and who was her first po­lit­i­cal hero (Robert Sobukwe was the sec­ond).

An­other sup­porter is Arch­bishop Emer­i­tus Des­mond Tutu, who had called her ear­lier in the day to of­fer en­cour­age­ment. De Lille has also taken Tutu’s photo off her of­fice wall — not to hide like Maimane’s, but to hang up at home.

De Lille’s op­po­nents come at her from both ends of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum: crit­i­cis­ing her ei­ther for lurch­ing from one com­mu­nity cri­sis to an­other and not de­liv­er­ing bet­ter ser­vices, or for not pay­ing enough at­ten­tion to the in­ter­ests of the af­flu­ent. The wa­ter cri­sis is an ex­am­ple.

Dry white sea­son in the Cape

The crip­pling drought pre­sented Cape Town with a glar­ing chal­lenge.

As mayor, De Lille did a great deal to raise aware­ness about sav­ing wa­ter, seek­ing ad­vice from the World Bank and for­mer New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, among oth­ers.

Some an­a­lysts ques­tion whether she has sur­rounded her­self with the wrong peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly af­ter ap­point­ments such as that of ex-ANC coun­cil­lor Loy­iso Nkohla, no­to­ri­ous for dump­ing fae­ces across Cape Town to high­light the prob­lem of poor san­i­ta­tion.

But De Lille feels the cam­paign to oust her is driven pri­mar­ily by re­sis­tance to trans­for­ma­tion in the DA rather than her track record in the Mother City.

“I wanted to take the city to the next level of change, so I needed to plan dif­fer­ently, to change the method­ol­ogy,” she says.

“That’s when we came with the city’s or­gan­i­sa­tional devel­op­ment and trans­for­ma­tion plan, and that’s when things started to go wrong.

“I had quite a lot of re­sis­tance from the old guard in the DA but fi­nally I got it adopted by coun­cil. Lots of peo­ple were not happy. They wanted Cape Town to stay the same.”

Her pri­or­i­ties, she says, have been re­dress­ing im­bal­ances in ser­vice delivery and ad­dress­ing land resti­tu­tion and af­ford­able in­ner-city hous­ing.

She prefers hands-on lead­er­ship to com­mand­ing from her of­fice. On her first day as mayor she vis­ited city de­pots and soon af­ter went to meet trade union lead­ers at their of­fices.

Her ap­proach sounds in­clu­sive, yet the mayor has a rep­u­ta­tion for wield­ing an iron fist. She puts this crit­i­cism down to her gen­der. “I do not nor­mally like to play the woman card,” she says, “but peo­ple tend to put in ad­jec­tives like ‘feisty’, ‘fiery’ or ‘au­to­cratic’ when women are in power.”

De Lille is de­ter­mined to put the record straight with her own kiss-and-tell ac­count af­ter her di­vorce from the DA is set­tled.

“So many peo­ple have their sights set on who they want as mayor and have been mo­bil­is­ing around this. Many peo­ple have told me that they were promised new jobs in ex­ec­u­tive po­si­tions if they voted for the mo­tion of no con­fi­dence in me. I’m mak­ing notes ev­ery day about what is hap­pen­ing. I’m keep­ing all the mes­sages and e-mails and I’m in the process of writ­ing a book.

“I have al­ways been an ac­tivist. I will die an ac­tivist. Cape Town is where I started by throw­ing stones. Here is where I was ar­rested in 1976 and here ev­ery year I marched to the open­ing of par­lia­ment. I have fi­nally come full cir­cle to serve the peo­ple of Cape Town, and that’s what I’m do­ing.”

This is my fight with the DA. We are all equal be­fore the law. Just give me a fair process

Pic­ture: Esa Alexander

Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille rel­ishes lit­tle more than a ding-dong po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, and she is giv­ing as good as she gets in her fight against her own party, the DA.

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