Cold war over Cape Town appears to have ended, for now

Shenanigans in the Cape Town city council over the past weeks appear like scenes from a John le Carre spy thriller or, perhaps more fittingly, from Madmagazine's Spy v Spy satirical cartoon.

Shenanigans in the Cape Town city council over the past weeks appear like scenes from a John le Carre spy thriller or, perhaps more fittingly, from Madmagazine's Spy v Spy satirical cartoon.

It started with a splinter group of the Africa Muslim Party (AMP) led by its ringleader, councillor Badih Chaaban, running a classic double-cross and blackmail racket.

The AMP was part of the multiparty coalition led by the Democratic Alliance's (DA) Helen Zille, but Chaaban was holding secret talks with the ANC's provincial leader James Ngculu and the Independent Democrats' (ID) leader Patricia de Lille, among other leaders of smaller parties.

A plot was hatched to deliver a decisive blow to Zille, remove her from power and install an ANC-ID-AMP coalition into power.

This would bring to an end the multiparty coalition led by the DA.

So confident was Chaaban in his double-agent dealings that he apparently proposed to Zille: "Either hand me the deputy mayor position or, with James and Patricia, I'll take power from you."

Zille appears to the untrained eye to be fairly meek, and Chaaban made the fatal mistake of underestimating her.

But more importantly, had Chaaban done his mathematics, weighed up the odds, or just done a little more research, he would have known that Zille's record over the past year was 6-0; that being the number of times she has survived bloodless coup attempts.

To digress a little, cynics say Chaaban was never going to be the man to unseat Zille.

They point to his lack of person-to-person skills: he was disciplined for threatening the ID's caucus leader Simon Grindrod last year.

Neither is he apparently goodat mathematics: he has failed to decipher and pay the huge bill sent by the council for rent owed on the lease of Greenmarket Square.

In response to Chaaban's ego-fuelled proposal, Zille kicked out the AMP, struck a deal with the ID and De Lille and the score became 7-0.

Of course, credit must go to the ID for making a fairly safe move to the DA this time.

De Lille and her colleagues are still smarting after the backlash from ID supporters protesting about the party's previous coalition with the ANC after last year's local government elections.

And Chaaban's trickery has an even more positive spinoff for Zille - instead of having a one-member majority in the 210-seat council, the DA with its coalition parties now has a majority of 39.

Of course some will rightly argue that this makes Zille quite vulnerable to attack because De Lille has a mind of her own, and things could change very quickly.

But for now Cape Town's long-suffering residents might be the real winners.

They have been saved from having to go through another agonising period of waiting for a new mayor to be installed.

Cape Town's cold war appears over for the time being.

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