What did De Lille really mean when she said she would resign?

Patricia de Lille (David Harrison/M&G)

Patricia de Lille (David Harrison/M&G)

Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille’s intention to remain a member of the Democratic Alliance was closely scrutinised by judges of the Western Cape High Court on Monday.

De Lille’s alleged intent to resign from the party was cited as the reason the DA terminated her membership in May. The embattled mayor, meanwhile, has insisted that the statement she had made during a radio interview was about resigning as mayor — and not as member of the party — once she had cleared her name.

De Lille’s application to have the DA’s cessation of membership clause reviewed and set aside was being heard on Monday by a full bench of judges, which included Judges Pearl Mantame, Andrew Le Grange and Mark Sher. The clause, which is part of the DA’s constitution, states that if a member makes a public intention to resign from the party, then they are automatically expelled.

The crux of her argument is that the DA acted in bad faith when it invoked the clause to expel her from the party in May and that the clause violates various sections of the Constitution.

But in court, tensions heightened when Judge Sher challenged De Lille’s logic to resign as mayor if her name has been cleared. Sher read a lengthy passage from the radio interview transcript where De Lille told radio host Eusebius McKaiser that would was willing to “walk away”. McKaiser had asked if De Lille would resign from the DA.

Mpofu insisted that De Lille was referring to resigning as mayor, reading a later passage in the interview where De Lille talks about her “position”.

READ MORE: The fine print on De Lille’s sacking

“Because really it is not about hanging on ... I’m serving there at the behest of the DA. The DA has gone through a process and Electoral College; they have put me into that position. I’m not representing my jacket. I’m representing the DA and if the DA feels it wants to put someone else in that position they are also entitled to do that,” Mpofu quoted the transcript.

Judge Le Grange then interjected and asked a question that seemed to surprise Mpofu.

“What would happen if the DA stood up and said your name is cleared?” Le Grange asked. “She will resign as mayor,” Mpofu replied.  “Why would you want to resign as mayor if your name has been cleared?,” Sher responded.

Mpofu conceded it didn’t make sense, but that De Lille was free to make her own choices about her future.

The point was dropped, but later Sher and Le Grange came back to it, saying De Lille could seek legal avenues to clear her name without being a member of the party. But Mpofu insisted that just because the party has no guilty finding against De Lille does not mean her reputation has not been tarnished or questioned by the public.

READ MORE: DA & De Lille: Done and dusted

“I’m struggling to understand this need to stay in the party to clear one’s name,” Sher said.

“I understand where your lordship is coming from. As lawyers we think like that you are not guilty until you are found guilty,” Mpofu said. “In real life there’s a saying that there is no smoke without a fire.”

Mpofu told the judges that, in any event, what De Lille meant in the interview was not necessary to discuss if the DA’s cessation of membership clause is found to have violated the Constitution.

Violating the Constitution

Mpofu argued that the clause violates section 16, 18 and 19 of the Constitution. He said that the way the DA applied the clause meant that De Lille’s rights to freedom of expression (as envisioned in section 16 of the Constitution) and freedom of association (as envisioned in section 18 of the Constitution) had been “indirectly attacked”.

Mpofu said that her rights to hold public office and join a political party of her choosing had also been violated (as envisioned in section 19 of the Constitution).

Bu using “unlawful means”, the party acted in bad faith, said Mpofu. “For you to be removed from that office it must be done through lawful means,” hr said.

He suggested that the DA should have canvassed the city council to determine if the majority of members agreed De Lille should be removed, because it was the council that elected her into office.

“They are fraudulently trying to insult the intelligence of the court and South Africa because of something she said to Eusebius McKaiser,” Mpofu said of the DA.

The DA has maintained in court papers that they have a right to sack people from the party if they violate the rules of the party.

Johan De Waal, who also represents De Lille, is set to present further arguments this afternoon. The DA’s lawyers will then make their case later today or tomorrow.

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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