Council chaos: Joburg ANC caucus turns to Cogta MEC as DA lays assault charges against councillors

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ANC caucus leader Mpho Moerane
ANC caucus leader Mpho Moerane
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  • The ANC's Johannesburg caucus has written to Cogta MEC Lebogang Maile, placing the blame for the chaotic Thursday meeting on DA council speaker, Vasco da Gama.
  • The ANC caucus cited Da Gama's refusal to consider their input on how the ballot ought to have been conducted and his desperation to have the sitting go ahead despite objections.
  • The council sitting has since been postponed to Tuesday.

ANC caucus leader Mpho Moerane has written to Gauteng Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Lebogang Maile, raising concerns over council speaker, Vasco da Gama's conduct that led to Thursday's chaotic council sitting being halted. It has since been postponed to Tuesday.

In his letter to Maile on Friday, seen by News24, Moerane placed the blame for the collapse of the meeting squarely on Da Gama.

He said: 

The unfortunate collapse of the council meeting yesterday can be fully attributed to the conduct of the Speaker of Council, Councillor Vasco da Gama, who failed to consolidate dissenting views from fellow councillors. Council, in its nature, is an arena of ideas, with different councillors representing different constituencies, with various views on how council and its business should be conducted.

He said there was bound to be debate and "healthy engagement".

"However, the Speaker would simply not allow a discourse of this nature to unfold – instead, he used his platform to frustrate councillors on the opposition benches.

"On multiple occasions when there would be [call for order] by the opposition, instead of thoroughly and fairly engaging councillors, the Speaker would disregard their views and switch off microphones to prevent councillors from being given a platform to speak.

"Further than that, when the ANC Caucus would ask for a legal opinion to provide clarity on the interpretation of a rule that was causing a commotion in the house, he would insist that his interpretation of the Act was superior and on the occasion that legal was consulted, [Executive] Mayor Mpho Phalatse and the Speaker were seen to be 'briefing' them in plain sight, which alludes to a clear infiltration of the autonomy of the legal officials," said Moerane in his letter to the MEC.

READ | Blame game over Joburg council sitting chaos, criminal case to be opened

Moerane added that there were a couple of issues that arose during the in-committee sitting that were disturbing.

"A case was discussed, in confidence, but it was revealed that there was an emailing of confidential documents prior to council sitting to deal with the issues. The city also violated the rights of the accused by naming the accused and details of the case. In addition, after the caucus break, the Speaker didn't want to hear the feedback from political party caucuses, which was a glaring oversight on [his part]."

He said Da Gama infuriated the house by asking the chief whip to report back on a "whippery meeting that allegedly took place in December", where "proxy" voting was apparently agreed on.

"It must be put on record that the ANC Whip and Whips of other parties were not aware, neither were they present at this sitting and therefore were not aware of this proxy voting agreement. Furthermore, the Speaker did not give a true reflection of the numbers available to form a quorum before they can vote or announce the nominations.

He said the councillors present on the day failed to meet a quorum of 138 needed for the meeting to go ahead. According to Moerane, the total number of councillors present was only 136, meaning the meeting had no right to even proceed.

Moerane's letter to Maile came after Phalatse announced that she had laid criminal charges against several ANC and EFF councillors who disrupted the city's first council meeting of the year.

Johannesburg Mayor Dr. Mpho Phalatse, Photo: Melinda Stuurman

The special sitting of the Johannesburg City Council was disrupted by protests and some coalition councillors allegedly suffered physical injuries when the special sitting of the City of Johannesburg council descended into chaos on Thursday.

The bone of contention was the nature of the ballot, with the multi-party coalition led by the DA wanting an open ballot, while opposition parties demanded a secret ballot.

Moerane told News24 that a secret ballot was the fairest means of conducting the voting process as councillors would be allowed to vote according to their conscience and not just merely follow instructions from their parties.

The ANC caucus leader added that the DA's refusal to conduct the vote under a secret ballot was because the party was fearful that it would lose.

"We are in talks with parties in coalition with the DA, and we know the state of affairs within that coalition; it is not stable hence their hesitance to have the vote in a secret ballot," said Moerane.

While the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998 states that only the positions of the speaker and mayor can be contested under a secret ballot, the ANC remains adamant that the council rules remain silent on how voting for chairpersons of committees overseeing service delivery in the city should be conducted.

Moerane said:

Since the rules of council do not specify whether the voting should be by a show of hand or through a secret ballot, we asked for the DA-led administration to seek an independent legal opinion whose findings we are prepared to adhere to, but they refused.

Phalatse said her administration would review the footage to identify culprits who were involved in the assaults and lay criminal charges, a move that has been welcomed by Moerane, who said that there were, according to him, no assaults committed.

"There was singing but never any assault. I was the last to leave the venue, and no one came forward to say that they were assaulted. It's a good thing that the venue has content surveillance, so we have to view the footage, and it will show that this is just desperation from the DA," said Moerane.

The ANC caucus leader said his party was committed to serving the metro's residents to the best of their ability, even from the opposition benches.

"We have sought out to ensure that service delivery and oversight is prioritised, and that we hold the executive accountable. But what we cannot do, is sit and allow a deliberate misinterpretation of the rules, manipulation of the Municipal Structures Act, and outright insolent behaviour from the government of the day," said Moerane.

Maile is no stranger to meddling in DA-led councils; in March 2020, the MEC placed the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality under administration and dissolved its council.

The apex court in October 2021 upheld the High Court's April 2020 decision to set aside the province's decision to place the council under administration. The Supreme Court of Appeal in October 2020 also agreed with the High Court.

Despite this, Maile has written to Da Gama demanding that he, within seven days, furnish him with the reasons leading to the chaotic meeting.

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