Meet PA co-founder Charles Cilliers – be prepared to change your perceptions

The Patriotic Alliance is synonymous with its charismatic president Gayton MacKenzie, a larger than life man’s man who possesses no diplomacy filters and takes no prisoners. Critics of the fast growing political party write it off as a one-man show. But as you’ll discover in this interview with PA co-founder Charles Cilliers, that superficial judgement is done at your peril. Cilliers, a journalist and prolific book author who wrote MacKenzie’s life story in 2007, is urbane, mature and articulate. Apart from disputing much of the narrative surrounding last week’s drama in the Joburg Metro, he offers insights into reasons for the party’s stance – based, he says, on fierce independence. This interview is certain to change perceptions. Cilliers spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 01:20 – Charles Cilliers on writing a book about Gayton MacKenzie
  • 02:38 – On the origins of the Patriotic Alliance
  • 03:44 – On his transition from journalism to politics
  • 05:36 – On an ANC/EFF deadlock in Johannesburg and another minority party mayor
  • 07:22 – On why the PA didn’t put forward a minority candidate in Joburg
  • 09:41 – On Helen Zille’s comments, the PA’s relationships with the DA and the ANC, and how the PA works within coalitions
  • 16:16 – On the PA’s account of the failed coalition in Joburg
  • 24:02 – On the Patriotic Alliance’s plans for the future

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Excerpts from the interview

Charles Cilliers on his relationship with Gayton MacKenzie and the origins of the Patriotic Alliance

It’s been 20 years [since I met Gayton MacKenzie]. We’ve both gone off and done our own things at different times. I’m a trained journalist, so that’s what I did for a decade at least, actually more. And we’ve always stayed in touch and I’ve always understood the deeper purpose of what he’s trying to achieve. And he convinced me to to start the party with him. Him, Kenny Kunene and myself sat around and we decided that we would formulate the documents of incorporation, go and register with the IEC, and here we are ten years later. Not everybody’s favourite, but in terms of a success story for how to slowly grow a party, I think you could do worse than looking at us as a case study.

Read more: Back story to Joburg’s unlikely new Mayor: Kingmaker McKenzie explains his appointment – and what it means for 2024

On the PA’s loyalty to their vision and their relationships with the DA and ANC

So our official position is the same as it’s always been, Alec. We will vote with and we will work with any party that has support to have seats in any sphere of government. So Gayton has told you this, that if the AWB was still in politics we would hold our nose and even work with them if the coalition circumstances demanded that you make that compromise.

I think that the difference between us and any of the other parties is that we are actually able to work with anyone. And the other parties have actually boxed themselves in to a lesser [or] greater degree. Our view as the PA is that if we felt that the DA is doing everything right or if the ANC is doing everything right, then the members of this party would have joined the DA or at the very least would be voting for the DA and by the same token, would have joined the ANC or voted for the ANC. But we actually believe that there are flaws in both of the big parties and that is why we started the PA as a viable alternative. And we are very clear about our independence and the fact that we stand for an alternative. We have a different vision. We want to work with other parties to realise that vision. We do want to have a better South Africa, but it has to be done in partnership and we will not allow another party to co-opt us and basically turn us into either DA Lite or ANC Lite, because that’s a betrayal of our voters. That’s a betrayal of the people that voted for the PA to be the PA, and not a branch of the DA or a branch of the ANC.

Read more: Joburg’s collapse of anti-ANC Moonshot Pact – “dit loop kak”, but insider Cronje provides context, offers hope

On the PA’s account of the events surrounding coalition efforts in Joburg

It was a case of let’s hear from the DA if they’re willing to to support Action[SA]. So then we [would] know that we are not abducting the DA into a marriage against their will. And that was how our coalition discussions on Thursday night ended: with every single party, including our own, asking the DA, “Are you willing to support Funzi Ngobeni if he has a path to the mayorship?” And the answer was just repeatedly, “Our candidate is Mpho Phalatse.” And if [we asked] them, “Yes or no, will you vote for Funzi?” And they said, “Our candidate is Mpho Phalatse.” And [we would say], “Please answer the question.” [And they would respond], “No, we’ve answered the question.”

So we realised that, yes, obviously if you push them into that corner, and it was a choice between only Kabelo Gwamanda or Funzi Ngobeni and they had been eliminated in round one. Then we knew that yes, they would have to vote for Funzi,. There would probably be no way around it for them, because how on earth is the DA going to vote with the EFF/ANC grouping, and [they would] have to vote because you have to elect a mayor by majority, so they can’t even abstain. It’s not going to help. And that would have left us in a coalition with an unwilling DA. And that was something we were not willing to do. So I think that it may be that Helen [Zille] doesn’t understand what happened there, but we did not agree [to vote for the ActionSA candidate]. You can go and ask all the other parties – Michael Beaumont [would] probably be best to ask on this -but the PA did not agree that we were going to vote for Funzi in the absence of a willing DA. And that is why we didn’t vote for Funzi.

Read more: Helen Zille on Joburg chaos: Gayton “played” DA’s Moonshot partners, always defaults to supporting ANC