A loss for the Democratic Alliance could be a win for the United Democratic Movement (UDM) if Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille is removed from office.
As the party investigates charges of misconduct brought against her, she has found a vocal defender in UDM leader Bantu Holomisa.
Last week, he released a statement warning of an alleged plot to have De Lille removed from office and shaming the DA for its treatment of her.
The sudden show of support has roused speculation that the UDM may have its sights set on getting her to join it before the 2019 national elections.
But, in an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Holomisa downplayed any suggestion that his party wanted her on board, saying he had only intended to highlight procedural inconsistencies within the DA.
“No, there are no plans [to work with De Lille]. We were just analysing what was happening and showing people. And we hope other parties have learned something,” he said.
“We were also just exposing the DA — that it uses people and dumps them without following procedure. Remember, they gave De Lille an ultimatum to say she must motivate why she shouldn’t be removed without charging her or anything. You don’t treat people like that.”
His concern for her can be viewed as an expression of wider frustration with the DA, which has a tumultuous coalition agreement with the UDM in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
In September, Nelson Mandela Bay deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani was removed from his position following accusations by the DA that he had violated the coalition agreement by voting with the ANC.
Holomisa has accused the DA of believing itself to be superior to smaller coalition parties and enforcing decisions without following due process.
“They wanted to tell us what to do and have us take instruction from them … We are not members of the DA,” he said.
A senior DA member said De Lille was unlikely to switch party allegiance even if the UDM approached her. “Patricia won’t do that. She’s not one of those people who is in power for power’s sake. She is one of those people who is out to serve. And just because there’s some disagreement in the party, it’s not one of those situations where she will jump ship.”
Although De Lille has also been adamant that she will not leave the DA, not even to revive her own Independent Democrats party, the odds are piling up against her.
This week, the party formally charged her for allegedly bringing it into disrepute, acting in an unreasonable manner and failing to execute her duties to meet expected standards. She is also accused of interfering in municipal appointments, making sure her closest allies are by her side.
According to party sources, DA leader Mmusi Maimane held a meeting with De Lille in December at which he allegedly encouraged her to rid the City of Cape Town of people she was perceived to be protecting and those whose appointments she was suspected of interfering in.
“She was given the option of saying, ‘Get rid of these people’, but Patricia being Patricia, stubborn as she is, she pushed forward until now,” the senior DA member said.
Should she be removed as mayor, the DA might face a tussle over filling her vacancy at a time when it ought to be campaigning for the 2019 polls.
According to Holomisa’s statement, a plan is underway to have De Lille removed and replaced with Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela in an attempt to stop him from contesting the premiership of the province. A section of the party has reportedly identified economic opportunities MEC Alan Winde as the person they want to take over from Helen Zille as premier.
But party insiders say there are weaknesses with this plan because the DA will need to ensure the coloured majority in the province is accommodated by the party’s choice of leadership. Sources say one of the options is to select a coloured leader, social development MEC Albert Fritz, to take over from De Lille.
“They did want him [Madikizela] to be the replacement but we are haemorrhaging coloured votes at the moment. So, to do damage control, they might [support] Albert Fritz to take over,” a party insider said.
“And some people believe Alan Winde is the one who should be premier, but that leaves a question of what will happen to Bonginkosi. So it seems it’s going to be a big fight for the two positions.”
Although party members hold differing views on whether there really is a plot to push De Lille out and who could be behind it, there is consensus in the DA that the party has already suffered reputational damage, which could affect its election outcome.