My protest against the Speaker of eThekwini council at last week’s council meeting was a response to the systematic undermining of the integrity of the council which he is charged with serving. That my action was unbecoming and detracted from the decorum and importance of the eThekwini municipal council is unfortunate but the action was necessary and inevitable.
Even to the casual observer, it has been obvious for some months now that fairness and equality has all but deserted the eThekwini council. Cllr Logie Naidoo, in the role of Speaker since Election 2011, has been increasingly partial, displaying overt bias and maintaining alarming double standards in his rulings during council meetings.
The eThekwini council is a democracy. In the 2011 Local Government Elections, the governing party won 62%, the DA 21% and the remaining 17% is shared among the smaller political parties. The democratic institutions which underpin the council provide chiefly the following instruments for democratic participation: questions, motions and debate. The rules which govern our meetings and the exercising of these instruments are the Rules of Order.
Under Cllr James Nxumalo as the previous Speaker, the democratic institutions were upheld and the right of the opposition to make use of questions, motions and debate was respected. However, the past two years in the new term has seen an alarming erosion of the ability of the opposition to exercise its democratic rights in the council.
Questions that the speaker or his party do not like, such as mine last month probing dodgy contracts for fibre optic networks in the City, are disallowed. Questions that do make it onto the agenda are only sometimes answered, with most of the committee chairs responsible for answering them simply reverting that they need more time.
For the past two meetings in a row, the motions we have placed on the council agenda have been held over. I have, for example, had a motion relating to the troubling situation of the City’s crumbling rental housing waiting for 3 months to be debated at a council meeting.
The last straw was the council meeting that I was ejected from, where the Speaker took his authoritarian hand to the next level and summarily ended the speaking time of my colleague Cllr Jethro Lefevre. Every party has an allocation of speaking time based on their performance in the last election. Assuming a councillor sticks within the confines of the Rules of Order, the speaking time is guaranteed. While Cllr Lefevre was halfway through an important speech on City housing, a “point of order” was raised by a councillor opposite us who used the opportunity to debate the substance of Lefevre’s speech – clearly not a point of order, but the Speaker allowed it. Once the commentary was complete, the Speaker decided that was the end of Cllr Lefevre’s speaking time.
The application of the rules of debate and general rules relating to the conduct of meetings is of serious concern to us. While the governing party gets away with racial insults, homophobic taunts, gun shaped hand gestures, random interjections and insults, the rest of the council and the DA in particular are held to a different standard. The situation has become so untenable of late that the DA caucus had actually discussed how we would deal with a situation where one of our councillors was unfairly ejected from the council. We agreed as a caucus that in the event it occurred, we should make a stand and ensure the Speaker understands that his bias and selective application of the rues has consequences.
To the outside observer, the above may seem trivial, but it is important to understand that without the right to make use of these democratic instruments, the opposition may as well be excluded from council meetings. These instruments of participatory democracy are the only tools at our disposal in this multi-party democracy. The denial of that participation, undermines our democracy.
The DA held an official meeting with COGTA MEC Nomusa Dube in November 2012 which covered the performance of the Speaker. The complaints were acknowledged and we were informed that there was unhappiness with Cllr Naidoo’s performance from within the governing party as well. The MEC endeavoured to provide us a report back during December 2012, but it has never been provided to date. As of 21 May 2013, she again assured us that the report would be provided. The MEC is well aware of the concerns that exist around the Speaker but has failed to take action against him.
As reported in your editorial on Monday, the DA is considering taking the matter further, but not on the basis you suggested. We do not contest the right of the Speaker to make a ruling which orders the ejection of a councillor. Neither do we contest that a councillor so ordered should leave the council. However, what we do find highly problematic is the use of hired bodyguards to physically remove a councillor. Only an officer of the law provided for by the Police Act should be used in such instances, and that means SAPS or Metro Police. I have briefed my attorney and await his advice on whether to pursue the matter.
The Speaker’s claim in your paper that the bodyguards were in fact Metro Police officers has been shown to be untrue by the admission after the meeting last week of the Mayor to our caucus leader that Metro Police should have been used, and not his bodyguards, and then by the presence at Tuesday’s Manase Council meeting of over 10 Metro Police officers. If the bodyguards were indeed Metro Police, there would have been no need to bring in additional officers.
What we are experiencing in the eThekwini council is symptomatic of two problems, one localised and the other we are seeing all over the country. First, Cllr Logie Naidoo is unpopular in the governing party, and many of his colleagues want him replaced by Cllr William Mapena. The tension between the two is obvious to anyone watching. For fear of losing his job, Cllr Naidoo favours his party wherever possible and clamps down on the opposition. His colleagues protest loudly whenever he does attempt to bring one of their number in line, and the end result is inevitable. It is only a matter of time before he is replaced from within.
The second problem, and the basis upon which we are considering action, is the growing trend around the country of the opposition being actively blocked from exercising democracy and excluded from participation in councils. We believe there is value in a legal precedent which holds that only officers of the law can forcefully remove a councillor from a meeting. Mayors and Speakers cannot believe that they can used hired security to forcefully remove democratically elected public representatives from doing their jobs. Police officers can be held accountable for their actions, especially given the increasing incidence of violence against opposition activists and politicians. .
My speech to the council and my heckling of the deputy mayor were nothing out of the ordinary. The speech was direct and frank. It was not disrespectful, neither were previous speeches. They are all on the public record in the audio recordings of council meetings and shared via my blog. Heckling is part of politics and every party in council, especially the one in power, participates. My ejection from the council was manufactured because the mayor is opposed to my form of criticism.
My speeches address real issues, in real terms and show the City up for its failure to deliver. My questions probe all manner of cover up, and my motions seek to table workable solutions to a great many problems facing the City. I never get personal, and I never level insults. The Speaker is investigating my conduct because his party are tired of being hit where it hurts, and not because my conduct has been in any way problematic.
I regret that my action detracted from the importance of the council, but as can be seen above, the stakes are important enough that if it happened again, I would stand my ground again and ensure the point is proved. The ruling party won 62% and not 100%. As long as we are engaged in participatory, multi-party democracy, you can expect the DA to fight for fair application of the rules and equitable participation for all.
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