The party is a shell of its former self. Its members have abandoned their principles, writes Patricia de Lille
In Helen Zille’s 2016 autobiography, Not Without a Fight, the internal agonies of the merger between the Democratic Party (DP) and “new” National Party (Nats) are described in the aptly titled chapter, The Battle for the Soul of the DA.
Zille concluded that to stay true to a common set of principles “is a continuous battle inside a political party. The fight is never finally won.”
These words were prophetic. The fight was not won.
A cabal (her word) of unreformed nationalists have been sitting latent within the party for years.
Emboldened under DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s weak leadership, they have hijacked and captured the party.
The DA has abandoned its principles and the battle for the soul of the party has been lost.
Watching this battle play out in the past few years has been like witnessing the slow death of a child – unbelievably hard, tough to recognise and difficult to accept.
Our project to develop an effective democratic opposition party that Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko, I and others had worked to bring to life was not stillborn.
In 2016 two-thirds of the voters in Cape Town gave the DA the task of implementing real change in the city and of making good on the party’s election promise to address the legacy of apartheid.
Everyone can see there has been a vicious internal battle for the strategic direction of the DA.
Dangerous nationalist tendencies are coming to the fore and a small group of white boys have blocked Maimane’s moves to strongly address diversity in the party.
Tony Leon, the first DA leader, learnt that former National Party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk convinced his party it could survive in the new South Africa by engineering a takeover of the DP from within.
At the time of the merger between the Nats and the DP, Zille conceded that the DA did not realise the risk of the conservatives becoming the dominant force behind the scenes; of how this would give them “a new lease of life, under a new name”, allowing them to continue with their principles of ethnic nationalism, “racial mobilisation, cronyism and corruption”.
She stated that their “survival strategy was to help create the DA and then use it to entrench and extend, rather than rethink and reform” their culture.
The Western Cape was always their focus because here they would be able to outnumber and marginalise progressive members of the new party most easily.
After the merger Zille described how some diehard Nats used established apartheid-era tactics to remove people who opposed their views.
They established “commissions” that, without any evidence or real legal outcome, allowed baseless allegations to be publicly probed under a guise of authenticity.
They concocted and leaked faked documents to the media, forced revotes if the “right” candidate was not elected and undermined disciplinary processes to promote inept loyalists and discredit opponents.
The irony of these National Party tricks is not lost on me. For the past year some in the DA have relentlessly persecuted me using the same tactics. Unsubstantiated allegations have been leaked to the media.
A “businessman”, introduced to me by JP Smith, alleged that I tried to solicit a bribe from him.
This same person was struck off the roll of attorneys by the high court.
A forged Auditor-General letter, shared by DA MPs, tried to describe my home security upgrades in Nkandla fire-pool-style excess.
I do not even have a pool and the Auditor-General refuted this forged document.
Had these or any other of the “Steenhuisen commission” allegations actually revealed any criminal action on my part, the DA is legally obliged to submit this evidence immediately to the police for investigation.
Despite my repeated requests for this evidence, the DA boys refused to hand it over.
Just days before my application to court to compel them to release this “evidence”, the DA abandoned its Steenhuisen report.
These types of tricks worked well during the apartheid era because rights were selectively applied. Fortunately, these days we have a robust Constitution that protects everyone’s rights.
It is these constitutional rights – simple justice, due process and equitable treatment under law – that I have been fighting for in the past year.
By ruling in my favour – three-out-of-three times – and awarding me costs against the DA, our judiciary has upheld our Constitution and protected my rights. These court judgments are a victory for all South Africans.
Zille’s disappointment in the internal games of the DA echoes my own.
She wrote: “I knew the DA was failing. We were supposed to be offering an alternative to dishonesty and intrigue, but we were gradually being engulfed by the same things. For me, even worse than the treachery [was] the double standards of the DA federal leadership.
"I reported every one of these infringements … but was dismissed like a goody-goody schoolgirl telling tales on her friends.”
Chairperson of the DA federal council James Selfe continues to control the party’s inner workings and refuses to act on the many infringements by party members that are reported to him.
The DA says it puts citizens first, but that is a lie. It says it advances freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity, but its actions show it does not uphold these principles.
My love for this country, for its people and for our Constitution does not align with the direction the DA has taken.
I resigned as a member of the DA and I am relieved to be out of that toxic party.
The senior leadership chose Dan Plato, a loyal National Party member, to replace me as mayor of Cape Town.
His mayoral committee unsurprisingly consists of several old Nats and conservatives – including one who allegedly regards transformation as a swear word.
The party openly acknowledges it will work to undo the progress we were making.
The DA has been hollowed out from the inside. It is a shell of its former self. Its members have abandoned their principles, but I cannot abandon mine.
I refuse to let South Africa go back down this road. Politics as usual has failed our citizens and we must now look to the future to rescue the country.
We are a good people. We deserve a good country.
De Lille is former mayor of Cape Town and DA member www.forgood.org.za
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