Party digs in on former mayor
Although the Democratic Alliance made Patricia de Lille an offer to keep her council seat open for 90 days, the party has now said it will not allow her back on its benches.
The party has been embroiled in an ugly feud with the erstwhile mayor of Cape Town in its attempts to remove her as mayor. This week the party expelled her from the party on the grounds that she violated its cessation clause, which rescinds a party membership if a member publicly declares their intention to resign.
De Lille approached a court to suspend the DA’s decision. In an answering affidavit federal executive chairperson James Selfe said De Lille’s application was baseless.
The first part of De Lille’s application, to be heard on Friday, seeks to interdict the DA, the city manager and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). De Lille has asked the courts to allow her to remain in the DA for a month longer so that her name can be cleared.
But Selfe said it was not possible for De Lille to be granted the interdict because these actions took place prior to her court papers being filed. The only thing she could hope to achieve with an interdict was to prevent the IEC from filling her vacancy.
“The applicant is not seeking to preserve the status quo but to reverse the hands of time to when she was a member of the DA,” Selfe said.
On Wednesday, the party offered De Lille a settlement agreement in terms of which her council seat would remain vacant for 90 days to “avoid the need for unnecessary and costly litigation”. She would remain exiled from the party, an acting mayor would continue in her stead, but her seat would be left vacant.
De Lille declined the offer.
In her founding affidavit, De Lille said she sought to interdict the party’s decision to remove her so that she could clear her name through the party’s disciplinary processes and a court action she has lodged.
But Selfe claimed that, if De Lille retained her membership, the governance of Cape Town would be racked by instability.
“The DA will be saddled with a person who does not want to be a member, but who occupies a council seat in the DA’s name,” Selfe said.
“The city will have a mayor who lacks the support of her caucus and who, having just been replaced by an acting mayor, may again be removed from office when part B is decided.”
The first part of De Lille’s application deals with the urgent interdict, and the second section challenges the constitutionality of the DA’s membership cessation clause, and argues that it violates the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act because it breached her right to “natural justice”.
De Lille said in her court papers that the DA applied the clause unfairly to her because it relied on a statement she made during an interview with Radio 702 host Eusebius McKaiser and had misinterpreted it.
During the interview in April, McKaiser asked De Lille if she would resign from the DA once she had cleared her name. De Lille said she would “walk away”.
The DA said the interview showed her intention to resign, triggering the cessation clause but De Lille retorted that she was referring to her resignation as mayor. She said the clause violated her freedom of expression.
But Selfe, in the court papers, said De Lille had failed to make a substantive argument on the constitutionality of the clause. He also argued that political parties are private entities and their membership issues cannot be determined by the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.
“Political parties are not public bodies; they are private bodies. While they on occasion exercise public powers, they do not do so when they determine their own membership. That is a quintessentially private function that cannot be subject to [the Act],” Selfe argued.
The application to challenge the cessation clause will be heard on a date determined by agreement with Judge President John Hlophe.
De Lille has other cases pending.
Her first DA disciplinary hearing was instituted because of allegations contained in the Steenhuisen report, which was compiled after a subcommittee of the federal executive, led by John Steenhuisen, made allegations of maladministration, ill-leadership and corruption against De Lille. The federal executive adopted the report and instituted disciplinary action.
In early April, a month before her membership was rescinded, the party instituted a second disciplinary hearing against De Lille on a charge that she did not properly advertise a job post. Both disciplinary hearings were indefinitely postponed following complaints by De Lille that members of the panels were not fit to judge her case, and that the process should be open to the public.
De Lille has taken the Steenhuisen report on review in court but the case was postponed to allow her to make an interlocutory application that her team has yet to lodge. A week ago, De Lille’s legal team drafted papers to compel the party to submit the full record to the court of the documents it used to make the allegations it contained.
But, with her membership terminated, the internal disciplinary hearings may not be valid because she is not a member of the party. Her court action regarding the Steenhuisen report may also be suspended because she undertook the application as a member of the DA.
De Lille told the court in her latest application to interdict the DA that she was being unfairly disadvantaged because she would now not be able to challenge the allegations against her publicly.
“Apart from losing my job, it will mean that I will not be able to continue with the two court cases against the DA because I act in those cases as a member of the DA. It will further mean that I will also not be able to defend myself in the disciplinary proceedings against me and clear my name in public. The reason for this is that a party cannot discipline someone who is no longer a member of that party,” she said in her affidavit.