eThekwini pledges probe into 'misbehaving' councillors ahead of court challenge

Former MEC for social development Weziwe Thusi at her swearing in ceremony as eThekwini municipal speaker in Durban on Thursday, September 5 2019.
Former MEC for social development Weziwe Thusi at her swearing in ceremony as eThekwini municipal speaker in Durban on Thursday, September 5 2019.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

A full investigation is under way into which “unscrupulous individuals and misbehaving council members” constantly muted eThekwini DA leader Nicole Graham during the city’s virtual budget meeting at the end of May.

But, speaker Weziwe Thusi says, this does not mean that the Durban high court should grant her wish and declare the meeting to be unlawful and order that a new virtual hearing be held.

Graham has launched an urgent court application, to be heard on Wednesday, saying the leadership of the majority ANC had failed to adhere to “constitutional and statutory” obligations when it approved the budget on May 29.

“This application concerns the nature and extent of the obligation upon a council to ensure public participation in its decision making processes,” she says. “The meeting was undemocratic.”

She complained that she had been muted nine times in the first few minutes of her presentation. And then, after the meeting “stood down”, Thusi had allowed the IFP to make its presentation.

Thusi says this was because she wanted to ascertain if the technical problem lay solely with Graham and that she was to call on her to resume her speech after the other parties had made their presentations in the hope that the situation would be resolved. Instead, she said, Graham had been impatient and had “obstinately” left the meeting. The fact that she did not give her budget speech was down to her.

Thusi, in her opposing affidavit, said it was the first time the council had implemented its virtual hearing guidelines. It had two “dry runs”, which ran without challenges.

“The system is not without its shortcomings because, as it happened, it opened itself up to abuse by unscrupulous individuals and misbehaving council members.

“It was anticipated that councillors would behave properly. Against my better judgment, that was not to be.

“I made numerous attempts to implore members to desist from muting her. When these failed, I stood the meeting down to enable me, with the assistance of IT support, to ascertain the source of the problem and resolve it once and for all.”

Graham, however, says the proposal to allow the IFP to present was not put to her, nor was she informed that she would be given another opportunity to make her presentation.

“I was simply told the meeting was moving on to the IFP's address,” she said in her replying affidavit.

“I had been muted nine times, my dignity and that of the political process had been undermined.

“We left the meeting because it was clear that the voices of the opposition had been suppressed and the meeting had become a constitutional nullity.”

She said this was “precisely such a situation where the potential harm to the rule of law justifies a judicial check on local government’s legislative and executive authority”.

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