Gnashing of teeth as De Lille puts DA on back foot

Among all the drama unfolding in the ANC (Supra Mahumapelo in North West) and the DA (Patricia de Lille in Cape Town), there was some good news this week when former head of security in Parliament, Zelda Holtzman, settled with the House and withdrew her claim in the CCMA.

In exchange, Parliament withdrew disciplinary charges against her, as well as the letter dismissing her. They also agreed to pay her until the end of her contract, a total of eight months. Throughout her fight with Parliament, Holtzman had insisted she was being victimised for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing in Parliament.

The fact that Parliament was prepared to settle is an indication there must have been merit in Holtzman’s claims.

While one can understand the eagerness of Parliament and Holtzman to settle, there is a sense of being deprived of the truth. Holtzman’s claims will remain untested and Parliament will not have an opportunity to state its case.

This desire for the truth to come out is probably what has been driving (former) Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille in her fight with the DA, the party she was supposed to represent in the city.

(The reason I have put former in brackets is because De Lille might have been reinstated in her position by the courts in between the time I wrote this column, and its publication. Such has been the twist and turns in this saga.)

De Lille has been like a nasty cold that refuses to go away for the DA, the kind of cold that will infect many people as winter sets in over the next few weeks.

But it has been good she has refused to go away, and insisted on clearing her name.

I have always been fascinated by politicians and other public figures who fall from grace and then put up spirited fights to clear their names.

One can think of many people here, but the name that comes to mind first is Brian Molefe. The more he tried to clear his name, the more he ended up digging himself deeper into a hole.

This has not been the case with De Lille. And the DA, in their desperation to get rid of her, finally used a virtually unknown clause in their constitution to show her the door. They were hoping that by removing her DA membership - not so much the mayoral chains - she would finally shut up and allow them to continue with their business, like President Cyril Ramaphosa expected from one of their MPs during question time this week.

But De Lille has refused to accept this and made another challenge in the court to invalidate their decision to withdraw her membership of the party.

I spoke to her briefly at a function last week, and she reiterated that it was not about being mayor or being a member of the DA. It was all about clearing her name that she has built up through struggle and determination over many years, including blowing the whistle on the arms deal at a time when many others were keeping quiet.

She said she has always enjoyed a good fight.

I sincerely hope De Lille does not settle out of court with the DA, and that she does not give up.

After the fight that she has put up so far, she owes it to all of us - like she has continuously said - to ventilate the charges against her in public and refute them, so that all of us can see if she is vindicated.

This will be the only way in which she will then be able to move forwards to whatever she decides is next, whether this is to join the ANC or the EFF or form her own party, or become an academic or a serial board member, like so many former politicians.

There must be some merit in De Lille’s insistence on the charges being discussed in public, and the DA has certainly made us sceptical about their real reasons for wanting to remove a woman who their leader, Mmusi Maimane, praised as recently as 2016 as someone who “has brought a great contribution to South African politics”.

Maimane said this in support of De Lille’s decision to stand for a second term as mayor of Cape Town.

No matter how the De Lille matter is finally resolved, by the courts or common sense, the damage done to the DA will be felt for a long time. The way the party has handled this matter has confirmed in the minds of many that it is still a white-controlled party with no place for strong, black and independent-minded women.

It will be interesting to see whether other parties, especially the ANC, will be able to capitalise on the DA’s many mishaps on this issue. It will be equally interesting to see where De Lille decides her future lies.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 12 May 2018)