Freedom of Expression slams ban on GMRA

Alfred Moselakgomo

Alfred Moselakgomo

A war of words has erupted between members of Greater Middelburg Residents Association (GMRA) and the local municipality after the municipal manager allegedly banned the organisation from using council facilities.

Now Steve Tshwete municipal manager, Willie Fouche, has laid charges of crimen injuria against Benjamin Mokoena, GMRA chairman, accusing him of verbal abuse when he challenged the ban. Mokoena accused Fouche of furthering "broederbond" control of the council.

In 2004, the municipality decided to bar the Middleburg Concerned Residents' Committee from using council facilities. This meant that the association was not allowed to use community and town halls for any of its activities.

The council said if the association used its community halls, the property ould be at risk of being damaged.

The charges against the committee were subsequently withdrawn, but the ban remained in force.

GMRA, which is represented in the council by four councillors, said the council's blanket ban on the use of its venues would severely hamper its ability to participate in future elections.

Mokoena has since approached the Freedom of Expression Institute to intervene. He said GMRA members are being harassed by members of the local ANC, including the mayor.

"My concern is that other political parties and organisations will presumably have access to these venues, and will find it easier to campaign and that would mount to unfair advantage," said Mokoena.

He said the association's freedom of association and expression would be hampered because the holding of public meetings and public airing of views are necessary for election campaigns.

"I find the prohibition unreasonable since charges have been withdrawn against committee members and we see no basis for the council's resolution to stand," Mokoena said.

Jane Duncan, executive director at the Freedom of Expression Institute, said the municipal's move to ban residents was a "flagrant violation" of the GMRA's right to discuss matters.

"We will request the intervention of the IEC to mediate between the association and the council."