Cape Town mayoral candidate is a two-horse race, say party leaders

It’s considered a two-horse race for the Cape Town mayor as the Democratic Alliance gears up to select its mayoral candidate for this year’s election, with some saying it is a foregone conclusion. 

The incumbent, Dan Plato, is said to be fighting a losing battle against his contenders, MEC for human settlement and Western Cape provincial leader Bonginkosi Madikizela and deputy chair of the Western Cape, MP and finance spokesperson Geordin Hill-Lewis.

The DA’s factional battles are expected to take centre stage in selecting a mayoral candidate for Cape Town, with Hill-Lewis as the favoured candidate. 

The party has been in turmoil after Mmusi Maimane’s exit as leader and the loss of much of its traditional voter support base during the 2019 general election, some of whom moved to support the Freedom Front Plus (FF+). 

With that move to the right, and then the introduction of the Good Party, led by disgruntled former DA recruit Patricia de Lille, the DA saw a drop in its numbers, with the Good Party gaining the blue party’s traditional safe seat Ward 27 (George) during the “Super Wednesday” by-election in November 2020. 

In one of its federal council meetings, two-party leaders say that the DA allegedly told members it estimates that it might lose 400 of its seats in different municipalities in this year’s local government elections.

DA spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube denied this, saying that the party will be working hard to ensure that it brings voters a compelling offer on how to continue delivering quality basic services across all its governments. 

“We will be working equally as hard to ensure that we win new strategic governments either in an outright majority or in coalition governments,” she said.

The party is also losing favour with its donors, party leaders said. The party has denied this. 

With voter numbers continuing to decline, the City of Cape Town will once again be its bread and butter, one party leader said. 

“This is why it’s important to have the right person at the helm.”

Plato, who became a stand-in mayor in 2009, taking over from federal council chair Helen Zille when she became the Western Cape premier, is said to have lost favour with his backers, including Zille, the two party leaders said. 

They say this was evident when it was rumoured that the position was promised to Madikizela if he backed off from taking part in the race for interim leader against the now party leader John Steenhuisen.

With the introduction of the favoured Geordin Hill-Lewis, a party leader said it is unlikely that Plato — whose leadership has been regarded as lacklustre — will be selected by a panel to head the metro for another term. 

Plato has recently come under fire after announcing that staff and council members would get a 0% increase last month. 

He was also criticised for telling residents to “shut up” when questioned on the city’s housing project during a walkabout in coloured communities. 

Madikizela, who confirmed to the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that he had put his hat in the ring, is considered a much stronger candidate than the incumbent. One federal council member said he still has influence in the federal executive, which might work in his favour. 

“From the power dynamics of how Western Cape plays out, Madikizela is not to be disregarded. The power dynamic in the province shifts from one faction to another. There are forever moving targets. The difficulty for Hill-Lewis is that it’s not an internal election but a selection, it makes it very difficult to predict.” 

Bonginkosi Madikizela. (Rodger Bosch/AFP)

The DA’s regulations state that mayoral selection panels consist of 10 members elected by the federal executive and ten members elected by the relevant provincial executive. The relevant regional executive should elect five members, adding up to a 25-member selection committee.

Gwarube added that federal executive members are selected from a pool of elected members, adding that the selection panel is not hand-picked but rather chosen according to the dates of the selection processes and the corresponding availability of the members.

“Remember Madikizela is a member of the federal executive and is in charge of the regions and the provincial executive committee. This makes him very powerful and gives him an edge against his competition,” a source said.  

However, the party leader said while Madikizela could have some sway, he was “weak politically at the moment”.

“Hill-Lewis has been exceptional in parliament, he has tried to entrench himself with the people of the province, and he has the backing of powerful party figures like Helen and Steenhuisen, so he is not to be discounted. Let’s not forget that Hill-Lewis wanted to be CEO of the party, and he didn’t. This might be him asking for the party to pay up,” the party leader said. 

Hill-Lewis was once Zille’s chief of staff before taking the same position in Maimane’s administration. Hill-Lewis was also part of the powerful clique of party leaders opposed to Maimane’s leadership before his watershed exit. 

In his letter to the DA council in Cape Town when he announced his interest in the position, Hill-Lewis said that some would question his lack of local government experience. “I understand that. I know I have much to learn, specifically from you. Those of you who have worked with me closely know that I get to the facts of a matter quickly, consult colleagues and experts, read voraciously, see for myself on the ground, and do not relent until solutions are found.”

The DA MP, who has gone toe to toe with ANC leaders in the finance portfolio, added that he understood the city’s finances. 

Hill-Lewis denied being hand-picked for the job, saying that he decided to stand for the position because he had a clear, ambitious and brave idea of what needs to be done in the next ten years.  

“It has nothing to do with any internal politics. I really like the current mayor,” he said.  

Gwarube said the panel in charge of selecting the mayoral candidate would sit on Monday to interview the three men. 

Madikizela said he believed he was the right man for the job because of his experience in government. 

“I need to put a compelling offer to the panel of my experience in politics, the understanding of the dynamics in our communities and also my experience in government. I don’t think there is a better choice,” Madikizela told the M&G.

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Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa
Lizeka Tandwa is a political journalist with a keen interest in local government.

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