The Democratic Alliance appears to be under siege in various towns and cities in the Western Cape – where it controls the overwhelming bulk of the municipalities. It is scrambling to remove unpopular mayors from office.
The new “recall clause” – dubbed the De Lille clause as it has been used against Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille to attempt to oust her from office – has caused major upheavals in five other municipalities in the Western Cape.
SA Local Government Briefing editor Clive Keegan noted that the recall clause, which was adopted by the DA’s federal congress in April, gives the party new powers. These powers are similar to those enjoyed by the African National Congress, which used this clause in its constitution to remove President Jacob Zuma from office as the nation’s president.
Keegan notes that apart from the case of De Lille, the clause has been used in recent weeks against the mayors of Knysna, Berg River, Matzikama and George. In addition, the DA-controlled Stellenbosch municipality has been embroiled in an attempt to remove the speaker, Donovan Joubert.
At Knysna, a DA councillor emerged as the new mayor after the DA incumbent was voted out – with the bulk of the DA caucus out of the room. Provincial DA leader Bonginkosi Madikizela described the removal of the mayor Eleanor Bouw-Spies as an “outrageous coup”.
The DA’s Mark Willemse, who is also the Speaker of the Eden District municipality, was elected the new mayor. Cope has the deputy mayor’s slot while the DA speaker retained her position. Bouw-Spies was voted out by seven ANC councillors, two from the DA and one each from Cope and the Knysna United Congress. Willemse said there was a lack of leadership on both the political and municipal fonts. “The DA is losing votes in the town and we have put the interest of the municipality above those of party politics in order to put things right.” He has refused to resign from his new mayoral post.
In the 2016 local government elections the DA gained 10 of 21 seats, which gives the combined opposition of the ANC, Cope, the KUC, an independent and the ACDP 11 seats altogether – a recipe for political instability.
In Matzikama municipality, Mayor Rhenda Stephan resigned on 6 June, a day before the council was to consider a motion of no confidence against him. The DA caucus obtained authorisation from the party’s provincial leadership for the motion to proceed.
At Matzikama, which includes Vredendal, the DA has eight of 15 council seats, the ANC has five, but the EFF and the United Democrats have one each. That means the DA rules with a majority of just one.
Berg River, which includes Piketberg and Porterville, has 13 councillors, nine of whom are DA. The DA won all seven wards in the area, has two extra proportional seats, giving it nine. The ANC has four proportional list councillors.
On 23 May, Berg River mayor Evert Manuel resigned hours before a special council meeting was to vote on a motion of no confidence against him moved by his own DA caucus. At the same time, DA Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela confirmed that Manuel had been given 48 hours to give reasons why he should not be required to resign from the party. Madikizela said that although Manuel had not been found guilty of any allegations against him, it was enough that the DA caucus had lost confidence in him.
Madikizela hinted at suggestions that Manuel had been offered inducements to defect to the ANC: “We’ve seen this thing happen every time we approach the election, where the ANC targets certain councillors in municipalities where the DA governs by a slim majority of just one or two seats, pays them to resign, and forces a by-election so that they can take over a council. There are allegations that Mr Manuel was involved in that particular arrangement.”
Manuel said he had no idea why the DA national leadership had allowed the vote of no confidence against him to proceed, as no disciplinary processes had been followed and no formal complaints had been laid against him: “This has become a witch-hunt against former members of the Independent Democrats who joined the DA with Patricia de Lille. I have resigned in solidarity with de Lille, who was also a victim of the DA’s ‘recall clause’. The party is tabling no-confidence motions left, right and centre without basing these on facts.”
At George, the DA has terminated the membership of the party of Mayor Melvin Naik. On 4 June, the federal legal commission informed Naik that he had 24 hours to offer reasons why he should be reinstated. According to a letter from Micholas Gotsell, the manager of the legal commission, Naik tried to convince a selected group of DA councillors, at a secret meeting at the home of a DA councillor in Pacaltdorp on 20 May, to support the opposition in a motion of no confidence in deputy mayor Charlotte Clarke and Speaker Gerrit Pretorius.
The DA in the Southern Cape asked the party’s federal executive suspend Naik’s membership following a raid by the Hawks on the municipality’s offices and the homes of “people of interest” at the end of April, during which documents, computers and mobile telephones were seized in connection with an investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption.
The DA has 29 of 53 seats on the George city council, while the ANC has 16. Other parties and groups hold the remainder – eight councillors.
Clive Keegan, a former mayor of Cape Town, is editor of the SA Local Government Briefing and Donwald Pressly is editor of the Cape Messenger.