Mogalakwena councillors lock horns in battle for survival

2014-11-06 15:56

The political battles raging in the Mogalakwena municipality in Limpopo have escalated, with police being accused of taking sides.

In July, the ANC expelled 22 councillors, who have defiantly occupied their positions despite the party ordering them to vacate them.

The councillors have accused the governing party of “desperation to get rid of us” because they refused to accept and support corruption.

Today, employees at the embattled municipality started leaving the offices amid news that cooperative governance, human settlement and traditional affairs officials were on their way to convene a council meeting where a new mayor and speaker would be elected after lunch.

A number of members of the Mogalakwena Residents Forum – who supported the expelled councillors – were seen around the council complex. Some said they were there to ensure that “our councillors are not replaced illegally”.

A contingent of security personnel could be seen behind chained gates at the council premises.

“Let them come and break the gates again. Then they will be in contravention of a court order,” said one residents’ forum member.

Mogalakwena mayor William Mabuela and his council on Tuesday obtained the court order, which prevented the provincial government and the police from entering the premises without authorisation and also interdicted them from interfering with council activities.

Mabuela is one of the 22 councillors who were expelled from the ANC in July.

The expulsion was as a result of the councillors being part of a council meeting that made a decision to remove the former mayor, Tlhalefi Mashamaite.

Mashamaite, who acquired 27 bodyguards for himself, was implicated in a KPMG forensic report that revealed that he had misused public funds.

There has been no known action taken against Mashamaite by either the ANC or the provincial government despite recommendations for criminal charges to be laid against him. There were also reports of an apparent plot by the ANC heavyweights in the province to reinstate Mashamaite as mayor.

Mashamaite was replaced by Mabuela, who is one of the 22 expelled councillors. Mabuela has accused the ANC of not practising what it preaches, saying he and 21 other councillors were being crucified for exposing corruption while Mashamaite was being protected.

“The ANC teaches us that our number one enemy is corruption yet here we are being victimised for taking a strong stand on corruption while the corrupt are being protected. This is done by people who are using the ANC as a vehicle for self-enrichment,” he said.

Mabuela has accused the police of lacking impartiality and getting themselves involved in political tussles.

“We’re shocked to see the police taking political instruction. They came in on Monday without any legal authority, forced their entry into the council premises, broke gates and doors, manhandled us and left a trail of trauma among our employees who were chucked out of their workplace,” he said.

“As a result services, including essential ones like a clinic on the premises, were rendered inaccessible and brought to a halt. In a democratic state we experienced police being involved in what can only be described as a coup d’état.”

Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto was at pains to explain the police’s action when asked if they were reinforcing any court order or warrant.

“The councillors went to court to fight their expulsion. Their application was dismissed and [they] went to the municipal offices illegally and were basically trespassing. We asked them to leave but they refused and locked themselves in,” said Otto.

“We had to force doors open so that we can assist the new councillors to go in and remove those who were expelled. Our legal department people were there and I don’t think officers could have done what they did without the necessary legal authority.”

Meanwhile, Limpopo cooperative governance, human settlement and traditional affairs spokesperson Motupa Selomo said his department had declared vacancies after the expulsions of 22 councillors.

Nine councillors were sworn in last week and 13 wards were up for contestation in by-elections set for late next month.

“Our problem is that the expelled ones didn’t want to make way for the newly sworn in councillors and a brief to the police was that they help make way for the new ones and remove the expelled councillors,” he said.

Asked about the police’s conduct – they broke doors and allegedly wrecked havoc at the chambers – Selomo said: “We can’t prescribe to the police how they must do their job”.

He said the councillors’ court application to challenge their expulsion was struck off the roll.

Limpopo ANC spokesperson Khumbudzo Ntshavheni confirmed this, saying the court had decided three weeks ago that it did not have any jurisdiction over ANC matters.

“ANC decisions are ANC decisions and procedures were followed in the disciplinary process”.

However, Mabuela said as far as he and 22 other councillors were concerned, their high court matter was still pending.

“It is news to us as applicants that the court has upheld the ANC’s decision to expel us. The matter is yet to be heard and we were told that it needed a special court and could probably happen in the new year,” he said.

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