‘Court can’t be held at gunpoint’
NORTHERN Cape High Court Judge President Pule Tlaletsi yesterday advised counsel for the DA that laws could not be broken and that the court could not be held “at gunpoint” by the community, during arguments to debate the validity of a special council meeting that was held to unseat Sol Plaatje executive mayor Mangaliso Matika last month.
Tlaletsi indicated that he would deliver judgment on or before August 31.
Matika is challenging his removal, where he claims that the meeting was unlawful and that he was surprised by the motion of no confidence in him.
Tlaletsi was concerned that some councillors were excluded from the meeting.
“This is not inclusive, participatory democracy and could create fertile ground for factionalism. The first request for a special council meeting was not signed by a majority of councillors. The acting Speaker took exception to six of the signatories on the request. There was no debate regarding the removal of the mayor.”
Counsel for the DA requested the court to instruct the acting Speaker at Sol Plaatje Municipality to convene a special council meeting within the next five days, in the event that it could not validate the removal of Matika.
Legal representative for the DA, advocate Ncumisa Mayosi from Cape Town, indicated that Matika had no intention of vacating or implementing the council resolution of the special council meeting.
“Matika elected not to attend the special council meeting. He approached the court on July 30, five days after the resolution was passed. It is clear that he intends to remain in his position and only agreed to vacate following an interim court agreement on July 31.
Councillors were not doing anything wrong, although it crossed their minds that there was some uncertainty.”
Mayosi stated that the councillors acted to avert a crisis and to protect businesses and the community from an imminent citywide shutdown, where masses of people were planning to stage a protest against Matika on July 25.
“The decision was not taken lightly and all possible steps were taken to follow procedures. There was nothing vexatious about their actions. People were panicking – there was no suggestion to get rid of the mayor.”
She acknowledged that there were various issues of non-compliance, including the 24-hour notice period for the special meeting, as well as the failure of the acting Speaker not to issue notices for the meeting.
“The meeting that was held was constituted with a quorum of majority councillors (34 out of a total of 64) from all political parties, while a 35th councillor signed the attendance register upon his late arrival. This is an example of democracy – where the ANC, DA, EFF, Cope and the Freedom Front Plus, as well as an independent candidate, were unanimous in casting their votes. This is a very unusual thing that happened. They acted in the interests of justice with a view to resolving the matter.”
Mayosi pointed out that a request made to the acting Speaker for an urgent special council meeting, dated July 23, was not answered and without any reasons being provided, while a second request was made on July 25.
“The majority of councillors were in attendance of the council meeting on July 25, from 10am and between 12.30pm until 1.30pm in chambers, waiting for the legal adviser, acting municipal manager or acting Speaker – who was obliged to attend.”
She stated that even if the six signatures under question were not considered, there would have still been a majority of 33 councillors in attendance.
“No councillor was deliberately excluded from the meeting. The meeting was well publicised and was attended by members of the public.
“The motion of no confidence in Matika was not a new issue and was served at three previous council meetings. It is improbable that he was unaware of the motion of no confidence in him. Councillors weighed the risks and acted in the interests of the community.”
Advocate Alme Stanton, appearing for Matika, stated that the special council meeting that was held to remove him was invalid.
“At least 24 hour notice must be given for an urgent special council meeting. Matika is adamant that he did not receive any notice. He was not afforded reasonable time to assemble the relevant information or present his case or defend his position.”
Stanton explained that while the acting municipal manager was awaiting a written request for the meeting, the DA proceeded with the meeting.
“The argument that the community was disruptive and could not give notice of the motion of no confidence in the mayor does not hold water. The circumstances that led up to the meeting and the pending disciplinary process against Matika must be scrutinised.”
She pointed out that Matika had met with the representatives of the community to discuss the electricity tariffs.
“There was no compliance or advertisement for the meeting. The DA persisted with the invalid council meeting and court application although it knew that it would be entering troubled waters, where they forced Matika to bring and oppose his application.”
Legal representative for the acting Speaker, Frans Petersen, stated that the public should respect the law and should not hold the municipality ransom with their demands.
“No matter what happens, members of the public cannot cause anarchy if a person is allowed to come back.”
Petersen believed that there was no compliance with the rules and the meeting should be set aside as being null and void.
“Councillors have a right to attend the business of council. No notice was given for the meeting that amounted to nothing more than a gathering of councillors. There were serious allegations of misrepresentations on the basis of five signatories. The acting Speaker (Ben Springbok) acted within the boundaries of the Constitution.”
A group of supporters wearing Matika T-shirts and other ANC regalia chanted in support of him outside the court building and also packed the gallery benches.
ANC regional secretary Webster Dichaba advised members that voting against Matika amounted to voting for the DA.
SUPPORTERS: ANC Regional Secretary, Webster Dichabe addresses the crowd of ANC supporters outside the Northern Cape High Court yesterday.