De Lille takes on Limberg over SMS

Patricia de Lille (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

Patricia de Lille (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

Patricia de Lille, who is fighting to remain Cape Town mayor, has hit back at claims that she sent an SMS to influence the appointment of the city manager, and has accused the complainant who blew the whistle on the text message of being influenced by factionalism in the Democratic Alliance.

The Mail & Guardian reported last week that De Lille had purportedly sent the SMS to a selection panelist, Xanthea Limberg, so that Achmat Ebrahim would be reappointed as city manager. The SMS reads: “I want to keep Achmat so score him highest.
Thanks.”

In her response to the newly surfaced SMS, De Lille challenged the veracity of the message, saying for seven months the DA had refused to send her a copy of the message. The party held a disciplinary hearing into De Lille’s conduct, after she was alleged to have sent the SMS, the details of which are in a report compiled by DA parliamentary chief whip John Steenhuisen.

“When they decided to charge me for the SMS, we said give us the number of the [recipient of the] SMS, give us the name of the person that had sent the SMS, give us a copy of the SMS. We’ve never received that, so I doubt whether this thing is genuine,” De Lille said.

“They could not for seven months produce an SMS. All of a sudden, they now produce an SMS to the media.”

Limberg, the water and sanitation mayoral committee member in De Lille’s office, confirmed that De Lille had sent the SMS to her and that she had laid the complaint with the Steenhuisen committee — a subcommittee of the federal executive headed by the party’s parliament chief whip John Steenhuisen — when they began their investigation in 2017. The federal executive confirmed that it Limberg who made the complaint about the SMS.

“The very day that it happened I shared it with other colleagues, and when a collective of people engaged the party to convey our concerns about Patricia I also shared the SMS,” Limberg said.“The discussions with the party about our concerns happened over multiple meetings in early 2017 and when the party then set up the formal Steenhuisen enquiry, I formally handed over the SMS.”

But De Lille has accused of Limberg of becoming embroiled in factional battles in the party because of her alleged personal relationship with DA deputy caucus leader in Cape Town, JP Smith.

“Is it because of her handlers telling her? She is instructed by her handlers. All of a sudden now it is appearing. I am also wondering where the SMS appeared. It appears from Xanthea and Smith’s pillowcase,” De Lille told the Cape Times newspaper.

Limberg, however, denied that she had been improperly influenced and said that Smith was not involved in the complaints she raised, which included issues other than the SMS. Smith, De Lille has said in her court papers, is among those in the party that is waging a campaign to remove her from office.

“Nobody influenced me to do anything. I believed right from the start that the SMS was improper and therefore did not respond to it. I submitted additional issues other than just the SMS to the Steenhuisen inquiry. JP Smith had no involvement in any of these matters and only became aware of these multiple issues after the fact,” she said in response to De Lille’s allegations.

De Lille has not denied that she sent the SMS, but has asked for the evidence of it to be produced so that her lawyers could test the evidence the DA claimed to have against her when it began disciplinary action in March.

The party, in the meantime, has said that it could not release details of the evidence it allegedly has against De Lille because complainants had brought evidence under the assurance that their information would be kept confidential.

De Lille is currently waiting for a judgement from the Western Cape high court that could see her potentially remain in office after the DA terminated her membership a week ago. She has applied for an interdict order against the DA’s decision to expel her, which would allow her to remain a party member and continue as mayor until the disciplinary processes against her have concluded.

Judgment in the matter was reserved on Friday. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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