cape Town – Patricia De Lille remains a nationally recognisable figure in South African politics, thanks in part to the "De Lille dossier" which brought to attention to the corruption involved in South Africa’s multi-billion rand arms deal in 1999, her ascension to mayor of Cape Town and her subsequent bitter public fight with the Democratic Alliance (DA) which saw her booted from that position.
Born in the arid Beaufort West, the biggest rural town in the Karoo, in 1951, De Lille became involved in the union movement, first as a shop steward for the National Council of Trade Unions-afilliated Chemical Workers Union in the seventies and was elected to its national executive committee in 1983.
By 1988, she rose to become NACTU’S national vice-president, the highest position attained by a women in the union movement at the time. A year later, she was elected to the leadership of the Pan Africanist (PAC) movement.
Following the first democratic elections in 1994, she walked into the corridors of Parliament as a PAC MP, the party’s chief whip, and was later elected chair of the transport portfolio committee.
In 1999, De Lille called for a judicial commission of inquiry into the multi-billion rand arms deal, citing from a document which was dubbed the "De Lille Dossier". An investigation into kickbacks received by politicians and the politically-connected later led to the conviction and jailing of Shabir Shaik, a close ally of former President Jacob Zuma, and Tony Yengeni, an African National Congress (ANC) MP at the time. Charges against Zuma were dropped in 2009, shortly before his ascension to State president, but reinstated following his fall from power last year, something De Lille claimed vindicated her.
De Lille left the PAC in 2003 during a floor-crossing window, starting her own political party, the Independent Democrats (ID). Come the 2004 elections, the ID had seven seats in the National Assembly, with that figure falling to four in two subsequent floor-crossing periods.
In the 2009 polls, the party had four seats. De Lille merged the ID with the Democratic Alliance in a bid to challenge the ruling African National Congress in the 2011 municipal elections, something that paid off with the DA winning an outright majority in the City of Cape Town and winning some municipalities in rural Western Cape – a traditional support base for both the DA and De Lille.
De Lille was elected mayor, and retained the position after another strong showing by the DA in the 2016 municipal polls. But just over a year later, the relationship between De Lille and DA leaders soured. She was accused of corruption and wrongdoing, something which is yet to be tested in a court of law.
After a vote of no confidence by the DA caucus, De Lille turned to the courts, where she successfully challenged her removal from office. She later resigned, but the allegations still hang over her head, with the DA using the debacle as part of its telecanvassing script, telling potential voters she was accused of wrongdoing and fired – a claim De Lille again challenged and is currently part of Electoral Court processes underway.
De Lille has been crisscrossing the country after establishing the GOOD party in December last year, just five months short of the 2019 national and provincial elections, which the party will contest countrywide.
This is De Lille’s fourth political home. Her detractors point to her changing allegiances and messages depending on who she serves. But De Lille maintains South Africans are desperately looking for an alternative to the big parties.
During an interview shortly after announcing the establishment of Good, De Lille said her involvement in the PAC, a liberation movement, was appropriate at the time as it still commanded a percentage of the vote, and that the party had played a role in writing the Constitution.
The establishment of the Independent Democrats was her attempt at taking advantage of the space for a party led by woman to debut on the political landscape. Her decision to merge with the DA, according to De Lille, was for opposition parties to take up a united front to take on the ruling ANC and its dominance at the polls.
De Lille now believes a country dominated by two or three parties is not conducive to the contestation of ideas.
The GOOD manifesto is based on four principles – to undo the apartheid spatial planning which has led to many people not owning their own land and living long distances from where they work; creating jobs through improving conditions for economic growth and increased investment; social justice to ensure an end to unfair privilege; and tackling climate change which is impacting the economy, food security and the environment.
GOOD claims it has singed up around 70 000 supporters online, while the Institute for Race Relations last month said a survey showed it polling at only 2.5 percent. If she gets even one percent of the vote, that could qualify GOOD for a few seats in the National Assembly.
De Lille is GOOD’s premier candidate in the Western Cape where her support base is strongest and where analysts believe she could make a dent in the number of votes the DA is expected to garner.
The feisty politician remains an underdog. Her showing at the polls will depend on how well she’s done to convince her target group – the disillusioned and undecided voters – to give GOOD a chance.
African News Agency/ANA