De Lille; a sobering, brief history of her political time – Ed Herbst

CAPE TOWN — For those readers who think Patricia de Lille is something of a national hero for her part in exposing the arms deal that gave us an early heads up on Zuma and his then-incipient army of Zuptoids, reading this will make them think again. The kindest interpretation one can make of veteran journalist Ed Herbst’s time line on her many public statements over the years is that she’s a loose cannon of note, that she trims her sails to the prevailing political winds and brashly tailors her message to whatever audience, regardless of the wider truth. The latter behaviours we’ve come to expect of politicians, but a reading of this comprehensive precis of her public utterances and behaviour goes a long way to provide some explanation as to why the DA is so mustard keen to get rid of her for good. She is to the DA’s reputation and functional metropolitan management what Zuma is to the ANC’s nationally. Too few journalists have as many years in the field, the diligence in research, dedication and passion-backed skill, to contribute historical context so meaningfully to current events. It’s a sobering read. – Chris Bateman

Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille speaks during an interview at her office in Cape Town. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

By Ed Herbst*

Patricia de Lille, the feisty politician is in the doghouse.

The darling of the media before 1 March 2006, she is now the pariah of politics having earned the titles Patricia de Liar in the Citizen and Mampara in the Sunday Times.

This is because she lied blatantly, saying she would not back the African National Congress (ANC) or its mayoral candidate for Cape Town, Nomaindia Mfeketo, and then doing so at the 11th hour. She continues to deny this, contrary to all media evidence

What may seem like courage and principle – a phrase she used ad nauseum throughout the discussions – is stubbornness and a failure to compromise when it is the right thing to do. Using this refrain in the negotiations as though it was a mark of integrity, provoked a rebellion among her gatvol supporters, one of whom remarked: ‘Kyk hoe lyk haar principles nou!’ – Hero to zero for media darling Patricia de Lille – Rhoda Kadalie Business Day 23/3/2006

To read the statement of the DA Federal Executive about their investigation into the management of Cape Town under Patricia De Lille is a deeply disturbing experience. Poor leadership, degeneration of trust, misdirecting Council officials, failure to allow officials to do their jobs, interfering with project plans, gross misconduct, gross dereliction of duty, lying to Council over a lengthy period of time both about the loss of revenue from the Transport and Urban Development Authority and about the upgrades in her own home, mismanagement of the water crisis, responsibility for the city having its audit status down-graded – the list goes on and on. – R W Johnson Politicsweb 1/2/2018


I heard Patricia de Lille before I set eyes on her for the first time. 

It was a few months before the 1994 elections and I, as an SABC TV news reporter, was covering a Patricia de Lille meeting in one of the Mother City’s townships.

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

The next moment she was on the stage and her message was just as unequivocal…

One settler, one bullet!

A few weeks later I covered another of her meetings – this time in Constantia.

The message could not have been more different, more conciliatory as she tailored her message to the audience – these are my principles and, if you don’t like them, I have others.

I’ve had vague reservations about her ever since – although I acknowledge that everyone’s views change over time.

As Cape Town gazes into a waterless abyss, de Lille is very much in the news at the moment and one of the accusations she faces is that she has tried to centralise power in her mayoral office in the Cape Town municipality.

My sense is that the charge could well be justified.

I worked as a consultant in the media department of the City of Cape Town (COCT) from 2007 to 2009 when Helen Zille, a former journalist, was mayor.

We represented the people of Cape Town – from atheists to Zen Buddhists – people whose views covered the entire spectrum of political belief and affiliation.  The COCT staff – who numbered about 25 000 at the time -also reflected this diversity.

For this reason press releases on a COCT letterhead contained public information, not political communication.  They were “politically neutral”. The reason was quite simple: local government is about real, daily service delivery to all, not strategies, visions and promises.  In a diverse, often polarised metro, the City of Cape Town could deliver these services most effectively as a professional organisation, not tainted by or directly affiliated to politics and politicians.

The Mayor, Mayoral Committee members, the City Manager, Executive directors and directors were allowed to speak to news media on their areas of responsibility and expertise.  This free flow of information through the dozens of daily, community newspapers, radio, television and news services (social media was not as active then) proved invaluable in promoting transparency, credibility and “depoliticising” service delivery.

The message to councillors – and the City’s media protocol at the time reflected this – was simple: if you want to attack your opponents, do it in your own name and through your party channels – lest you be accused of abusing City communication channels funded by ratepayers.

Former colleagues in the department tell me that this changed when de Lille became mayor with Paul Boughey as her chief of staff.

They were told emphatically and unequivocally that the media department’s communication policy was being changed – from then on they formed the propaganda arm of the Democratic Alliance in the Cape Town municipality.

That, in my opinion, is outrageous and disgraceful.

It is interesting to look back to the early 1990s and some of the quotes which defined de Lille’s perspective on matters such as minority rights, the attacks by members of her PAC party on the St James Church and the Heidelberg Tavern, the murder of Amy Biehl, our diplomatic ties with the Operation Gukurahundi war criminal Robert Mugabe and the need for MPs to fulfil the parliamentary duties for which they are paid. It would be entirely justified to say that, in her first decade as an MP, fomenting hatred against the white minority was a singular and venomous focus of her political endeavours.

28 July 1993

De Lille states that she and the PAC are not in favour of power sharing and if the PAC gets a majority in government they will discard everything negotiated at the World Trade Centre.

In an interview, de Lille states that the PAC is not willing to form any kind of coalition government and that the PAC, if voted into power, would discard whatever consensus was reached at the planned World Trade Centre negotiations.

“No, we (the PAC) are not in favour of power sharing and if we get some kind of majority in the constituent assembly, we will say to hell with whatever they agreed in the negotiations.” – (The Sowetan, 28 July 1993)

31 November 1993

De Lille denigrates women in general and says with few exceptions – herself obviously – few of them have what is required for holding high political office.

In the run up to the negotiations that would later produce South Africa’s democratic Constitution, de Lille states, “Women are strange animals. They’re petty and jealous and I don’t see why they should be represented at the negotiating table when very few of them have any contribution to make.” – (Tribute, 31 October 1993)

31 December 1993

As a leading member of the PAC, de Lille places on record the fact that the party found the opening clause in the ANC Freedom Charter that, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.’ to be unacceptable.

Asked about this in an interview, de Lille said: “We must first get our land back, then we can sort out the other details.” – (Die Suid-Afrikaan, 31 December 1993)

12 January 1994

With a clear disinterest in concepts like transparency and accountability, de Lille refuses to answer a question on whether she and the PAC accepted the fact that its armed wing, APLA, were involved in two terrorist attacks on innocent civilians which saw 15 people murdered and dozens seriously injured.

In an interview with David Hall-Green on the SABC programme Good Morning South Africa, de Lille first obfuscates and then bluntly refuses to answer the question whether the PAC had prior knowledge on the actions of APLA, with regard to the St James Church massacre and the Heidelberg Tavern attack.

David Hall-Green: But now are you going to be prepared to say right now, as you sit there, that the PAC at this stage does not know whether or not the St James Church massacre or the Heidelberg Tavern were perpetrated by people belonging to APLA?

Patricia De Lille: It is not only the PAC that did not know. It is the whole country.

Hall-Green: You’re saying you don’t know. The PAC does not know?

De Lille, interrupting: The whole country, David, until such time a person has been charged and tried in a court of law, then we can for sure say. At the moment the police are still busy with investigations in the St James attack, the Heidelberg attack and they must still conclude their investigation.

Hall-Green: So you don’t know whether those were your people or not?

De Lille: We don’t know if our people are guilty, but we do know that certain people have been arrested as suspects in this case and they are members of the PAC…

Hall-Green: That’s about it for this particular discussion, and we say our thanks to Patricia de Lille. Before you go, I want to ask you please once more to answer us – a yes or no answer – regarding the knowledge that the PAC has of the actions of APLA. Can you say that you do not know that APLA is in fact operating completely independently of the mother organization?

De Lille: Let me say David, I’m under no obligation to say yes or no because the answer is not that simple. I was at pains earlier on to explain what is the situation. It seems then that you have accepted, like many other people in the country, a trial in the media. We’ve been sentenced and found guilty.

Hall-Green, (interrupting): Personally, I have a totally open mind on this, that’s why I asked you the question.

De Lille: You know, it’s not as simple like that. I’m under no obligation to answer that, thank you. – (SABC, 12 January 1994)

16 February 1994

In line with her statement of 31 December 1993 that the PAC was in fundamental disagreement with the opening clause of the Freedom Charter, de Lille further articulates her thoughts on South Africa’s white inhabitants.

Speaking to the International Press Institute in Cape Town she calls on the media to encourage white people to emigrate.

She modifies the PAC slogan ‘One settler, one bullet!’ to “One settler, one plane ticket!”

The media should encourage them to leave to create space for the majority.”

“We (the PAC) want a government of Africans, by Africans and for Africans.” – (The Citizen, 16 February 1994)

17 February 1994

The PAC immediately distances itself from de Lille. It condemns her statement of the previous day, stating unequivocally that this was not PAC policy.

In a press statement, PAC spokesperson Jaki Seroke says de Lille had articulated her own position and sentiments in this regard.

21 March 1994

Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille

Speaking at a 1960 Sharpeville commemoration service at the Grand Parade in Cape Town, de Lille shares the stage with temporarily-indemnified Azanian People’s Liberation Army commander Mpazamo Yonana and Achmat Cassiem of the radical Muslim group, Qibla.

Before the meeting starts, sections of the crowd chant “One settler, one bullet!

De Lille gets a standing ovation from the 4000-strong crowd as she states:

The PAC wants to destroy white domination and is not prepared to share power with the white minority. – (The Argus, 22 March 1994), (The Star, 22 March 1994)

27 March 1994

De Lille refuses to apologise for her previous One settler, one plane ticket! call despite the condemnation of her own political party, the PAC.

In response, she states:

Such whites should not be forced to remain, but should rather be encouraged to leave.

Their leaving will create space for skilled Africans who are presently roaming the streets. I am not a racist, they are. – (Sunday Times, 27 March 1994)

6 April 1994

In total denial of concepts such as political freedom, freedom of association and democracy, de Lille has an unequivocal message for all black communities.

At a small election meeting of 120 people, in Uitsig near Bellville, de Lille instructs the crowd to chase away National Party and Democratic Party election canvassers.

“Chase them away if you see them coming here! Chase them away!” – (The Citizen, 7 April 1994)

19 April 1994

De Lille calls for the trials for the St James and Heidelberg Tavern massacres to be expedited because…

“As long as this matter is delayed the PAC will remain guilty in the minds of the people.”

De Lille continues to argue that although the PAC and Azanian People’s Liberation Army had condemned the atrocities, it suited the media and State to create the impression that these organizations had been involved.

At the time of this incident, officials of the PAC and its armed wing, APLA, denied any involvement and blamed a “third force” for carrying out the attack in the name of the PAC with the intention of derailing negotiations.

However, in its submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996 and 1997, the PAC changed its stance and took responsibility for the St James Church massacre.

Speaking at the launch of his book at the Cape Town Press Club in October 2002, Letlapa Mphahlele, a former APLA commander, told his audience that he personally ordered the murder of congregants during a service at St James Church in July of 1993.  He said this target was selected because it was believed that the congregation was all white and that they would not be armed. APLA terrorists entered the church with AK47s and grenades. They murdered 11 people and seriously wounded 58 but fled after a congregant fired at them with a pistol. Among those murdered were black congregants and a group of tourists from Eastern Europe. – (The Argus, 19 April 1994), (The Sunday Times, 11 April 1999), (, 29 November 2002)

19 April 1994

In August 1993 American Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl was hacked to death in Gugulethu township by PAC supporters shouting the slogan ‘One settler, one bullet!’

De Lille defends the PAC youth members responsible for the murder of Biehl saying “They have a right to be angry”.

At the court hearings, a year later, PAC youths threatened reporters and shouted ‘Kill Americans!’

As a Wikipedia entry on Biehl’s murder notes:

According to Rex van Schalkwyk, in his 1998 book One Miracle Is Not Enough, “Supporters of the three men accused of murdering [her]… burst out laughing in the public gallery of the Supreme Court today when a witness told how the battered woman groaned in pain.” (pp. 188–89.) Four people were convicted of killing her.

De Lille defends their ethnic hatred and their actions saying they had a right to be angry and their recourse was justified because they had been denied democracy.

Referring to the death of Amy Biehl, De Lille argues:

“The youth in the townships have been deprived of a democracy for over 340 years in this country. What other means do you expect them to use if they were denied a fundamental human right to vote and elect representatives of their own?” – (The Citizen, 19 April 1994)

19 April 1994

In an interview de Lille admits that the slogan ‘One settler, one bullet!’ was used to target white people.

Initially de Lille tries to justify the use of the slogan by saying that the term settler, “…is any person who does not owe allegiance to Africa.”

However she continues to further qualify the term:

“…In our situation… settlers are white – they call themselves white, it is the supreme identity that white people have assumed for themselves all over the world.”

At no point does de Lille condemn or address the true nature of the slogan – that it is a call for people to commit murder – she only tries to define the terms. – (The Citizen, 19 April 1994)

3 August 1994

Speaking in parliament during the budget debate de Lille claims that whites not only stole land in South Africa, but also the Afrikaans language.

“…the whites not only stole the land, but they also stole the language Afrikaans from our people.” – (Hansard, 3 August 1994)

6 September 1994

As the task of beginning to write a new Constitution gets underway, de Lille states that the name South Africa reeks of colonialism and has to be discarded.

“The name South Africa now belongs in the dustbin of history,” she said. – (SAPA, 6 September 1994)

31 July 1995

At a political meeting in Cape Town, de Lille calls on her supporters to invade farms and take them by force.

Using the rallying cry of “Izwe Lethu” (The land of the people), de Lille incites the crowd to rise up and take the land by force as she claims it is not going to be given to them willingly. – (SAPA, 31 July 1995)  

11 January 1997

In a show of solidarity with PAGAD, the vigilante and urban terrorism group, de Lille attends the bail application hearing for PAGAD leader Abdus-Salaam Ebrahim, at the Bellville magistrates’ court.

Ebrahim, PAGAD’s chief operations co-ordinator, is facing seven charges including two of attempted murder.

Afterwards, de Lille states that she attended the court to monitor the hearing and to show ‘moral support’ for Ebrahim. – (The Sunday Independent, 12 January 1997)

12 January 1997

In a statement released before a meeting between the PAC and PAGAD, de Lille states:

“The PAC’s consultation with PAGAD is in line with its National Executive Committee decision to consult with all organizations that are concerned with the wellbeing of our people in this country.

“We (the PAC) recognize PAGAD’s campaign against gangsterism and drugs and we are in total agreement with these objectives.”

De Lille continues to criticise the police force for the manner in which they had treated PAGAD.

“We (the PAC) are shocked to learn that in our new South Africa a legitimate people’s organization like PAGAD can be subjected to police harassment, and (its members) given stringent bail conditions that include house arrest.” – (The Citizen, 13 January 1997)

13 January 1997

In an interview after a meeting with PAGAD in Vygieskraal, de Lille acknowledges that she was invited by the PAGAD to address the meeting as the guest speaker.

She reiterates that she and the PAC are in full support of PAGAD’s fight against gangsterism and drugs.

De Lille again justifies her attendance by claiming that the PAC’s National Executive committee had given her a mandate to talk to a wide variety of political and community organizations which “…we feel are concerned about our country.” – (Beeld, 14 January 1997) (Cape Times, 14 January 1997)

15 January 1997

In an interview with Die Burger, the chairperson of the PAC in the Western Cape, Sizakele Mahlutshana, effectively denounces de Lille as a liar when he states that she and another PAC MP, Khaliphele Sizani, acted in their personal capacity and without a party mandate when they chose to address the PAGAD meeting on 13 January. – (Die Burger, 15 January 1997)

14 April 1998

In an interview de Lille states: “…I have to say that I am about principles and not systems and I will stand by mine regardless of who is in power.” – (Business Day, 14 April 1998)

13 July 1998

De Lille leads about 100 supporters onto a tract of Cape Town municipal land where a development is taking place at Pooke-se-Bos near Rylands Estate.

Some of the land invaders are brought in by de Lille from Tafelsig.

The invasion leads to a confrontation between police, municipal officers and protestors.

De Lille leads attempts to prevent bulldozers from moving in and starting work and the crowd resorts to throwing stones at police and municipal workers. Five people are wounded by rubber bullets and 30 children are treated for inhaling teargas.

Asked for comment after the illegal invasion, de Lille states:

“I know I’ll be grilled over this, but what the hell.” – (The Cape Times, 13 July 1998)

17 November 1999

During a debate on rape in the National Assembly, de Lille shouts at an ANC heckler, “Shut up! You must get raped!”

She continues to shout, “You know you must get raped… I wish someone could rape you one day!” – (Business Day, 17 November 1999)

19 January 2001

In an interview with the Financial Mail, de Lille implies that, by voting for the Democratic Alliance, coloured people in the Western Cape had lost their racial identity and had voted for ‘the oppressor’. (The leader of the ANC in the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool, was to adopt this de Lille tactic a few months later.)

“The bottom line here is not an ideology but race. I can’t explain why, to use the liberation phrase, ‘the oppressed should vote for the oppressor’. Inside myself I’ve said it, ‘I know I am an African’, but many of our coloured people still need to come to terms with this.” – (Financial Mail, 19 January 2001)

7 February 2001

Speaking to an audience at the Inanda Luncheon Club in Johannesburg de Lille suggests that her party deserves to be forgiven or its slogan ‘One settler, one bullet!’

“I don’t know why people can’t forget about the PAC’s ‘One settler, one bullet!’ slogan. What do we still have to do for forgiveness?”

She goes on to berate her audience, comprised mainly of residents from Johannesburg’s rich northern suburbs, saying that they should stop ‘whining’ about the state of the country.

“I challenge you to stop whining and moaning in the privacy of your dining rooms or braais or whatever.” – (Business Day, 7 February 2001)

27 March 2002

In a newspaper interview de Lille states that, from then on, she planned to spend 10% of her time in parliament.

“I am only going to spend 10% of my time in Parliament, which means I’ll be a de facto-absent member. I’ve decided I’ve got better things to do.”

De Lille says that the reason she will no longer attend the National Assembly is that she is, “… tired of feeling useless and frustrated. Nobody listens to you in Parliament – you talk to yourself and to the media.”

(There is no suggestion from her that she will, accordingly, request a 90% reduction in her MP’s salary.) – The Cape Times, 27 March 2002)

24 September 2002

Speaking at an Adele Searll Mount Nelson 100 Club function, de Lille opines that the ANC and President Thabo Mbeki have adopted the right approach – that of ‘quiet diplomacy’ – in dealing with Zimbabwe.

“Many people are saying the government must do more than quiet diplomacy, but they stop short of saying what exactly they want done. There is an issue of sovereignty.

“I know this issue is emotional, but we need to be consistent when we are dealing with the abuse of human rights, wherever it happens in the world. There are procedures you need to follow. We have tried out best, but what more can you do if the people you are talking don’t listen?”

Zimbabwe banks
Flag map of Zimbabwe

She ignores the fact that President John Vorster, did not use ‘quiet diplomacy’ when he deemed it necessary to end the civil war in Rhodesia – he simply withdrew support from Ian Smith which forced Smith to the negotiating table and brought universal franchise to the country which subsequently became Zimbabwe.

Having estranged many members of the PAC, de Lille utilised a floor crossing window to form her own party, the Independent Democrats in 2003.

Three years later, during the 2006 municipal election, the Democratic Alliance polled the most number of voters in Cape Town, but its tally did not give it an outright majority and it needed to go into a coalition with smaller parties. De Lille led her ID voters to believe that she would join a Zille-led coalition. To the distress of her supporters however, she decided – as Rhoda Kadalie points out in the anchor quote to this article – to take the ID into a coalition with the ANC mayoral candidate, Nomaindia Mfeketo. Mfeketo had been mayor from 2004 – to 2006 and the ANC had, during that time, plundered the municipality at will – stealing more than R2 billion in tender scams such as Big Bay 1 and 2, BTH Transport,  Jewellery City and N2 Gateway to cite just a few.

ID members were horrified at de Lille’s treachery.

I despise Marthinus van Schalkwyk for the way in which he betrayed his National Party supporters – telling them on one day that the ANC was evil incarnate and, without a trace of shame, joining the ANC the next in return for his 30 pieces of silver quid pro quo – an ANC cabinet post and, ultimately, a consular posting to Greece.

Single vote

De Lille betrayed those who trusted her in much the same way, leading to her being called De Liar by The Citizen and made the Mampara of the Week by the Sunday Times. If she had gone into a coalition with the DA as she faithfully promised her voters she would, the DA-ID coalition would have easily swept to power with a comfortable majority. She, however, must have been offered some significant inducements to join the snouting Mfeketo cabal. In the end, she failed, because the DA coalition scraped home by a single vote.

Western Cape Premier Helen Zille

This was to cost her dearly in the 2009 general election when even a vice-president of the ID, Simon Grindrod, left her waning party to join COPE. She accordingly agreed to a suggestion from Helen Zille that the two parties merge under the DA banner and this happened on 15 August 2010.

She became mayor of Cape Town in May 2011.

Her feisty personality and “principled” approach showed early on.  Her first address to the around 300 most senior managers in the City Council Chamber was followed by question time. I paraphrase the essence of her response as it was communicated to me by former colleagues:

If I tell you to do something, don’t tell me it’s against Council policy. I run the Council and I’ll change the policy.  Don’t tell me it’s against the law.  You are not a legal advisor and only a judge can rule on the interpretation of the law.

The message was as blunt as it was clear.  While de Lille is credited as a hard worker with a “can-do” attitude, who streamlined certain processes and shook up a few comfort zones, the assessment of her reign is not positive.  Accounts of her “impatience” around environmental and heritage constraints, disrespect towards party colleagues and City staff and her humiliation of them in meetings have surfaced.

Now she has become a liability to the Democratic Alliance when it can least afford it.

Service delivery and responding to a crisis ideally needs an energised, well-led local government with sound morale. Current media coverage and public debate do not reflect this. When all is said and done, a leader of an organisation has to accept responsibility if an organisation becomes racked with infighting, distrust and animosity and if it sacrifices focus, efficiency and optimal service delivery in the process.  In itself, an (irrevocable) breakdown of trust between the leader and his or her mandating party or board have always been grounds for a quick exit.

In Cape Town, there can be little doubt that some DA voters, estranged by the water crisis, will stay at home in next year’s general election, just when the ANC has been re-energised by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa.

President Jacob Zuma launches Invest SA One Stop Shop in Western Cape on September 8, 2017.

Between de Lille and the DA, de Lille clearly considers herself to be the greater electoral asset. Seeking to vindicate herself and to hang onto her salary and her perks, she will not go quietly. A decade ago, she was one of the most admired politicians in the country and the ethnic hatred she fomented during her early years in politics was largely forgotten and certainly forgiven. Now, with disquiet about her role as Cape Town’s mayor having grown in the past year or so, she has become a handicap that the DA is eager to jettison. She, in true ANC-fashion, now blames the citizens of Cape Town for the water crisis rather than herself and her administration.

For the Democratic Alliance she has become what Jacob Zuma is, with a few exceptions, to the ANC – an embarrassment.

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity
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