De Lille saga big test for DA ahead of 2019

Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.
Image: TREVOR SAMSON/Business Day

On Sunday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced his party's decision to charge and investigate Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.

Last year, DA's federal executive suspended De Lille from all party activities and ordered her to make submissions explaining why she shouldn't be fired as mayor.

Although no official charge sheet has been made public, according to reports and documents leaked to the media, it is alleged that De Lille is autocratic, divisive and has covered up irregular expenditure and possible corruption.

De Lille has hit back, claiming that the allegations levelled against her are no more than a political plot.

She has accused her detractors of targeting her because of her implementation of spatial transformation in the city.

De Lille has also hinted that she has been targeted so as to make way for newly elected Western Cape DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela.

Madikizela has raised concern about disunity in the council ahead of the 2019 polls.

The party leadership, however, maintains that it is taking action against the mayor only because it is committed to clean governance.

Even with the details of the investigation still sketchy, it is possible to deduce that the DA is standing at a crossroads as the 2019 general elections approach.

At stake is the party's image as clean on governance because that is its primary differentiator to the ANC. This is, however, being jeopardised by two issues that are bubbling over in the DA's facade of running a super tight ship with minimal glitches.

On the one hand, there is a growing sense of factionalism within its structures signalling a power struggle. On the other hand is the party's commitment and approach to redress and transformation, which is mainly at the centre of its latest crisis.

The truth is that, as a party in government, the DA cannot escape the conflicts that come with jockeying for power and influence over the disbursement of state resources. It also cannot escape the contestation over the real question and necessity of transformation.

The outcome of the investigation against De Lille will shed light on how the party answers to each.

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