Court orders Lobese’s suspension
PLETTENBERG BAY - Former Bitou mayor Peter Lobese is once again on the outs after the Western Cape High Court overturned an earlier decision that his suspension in June this year was invalid. Lobese not only described the latest decision as a "dark backroom" ploy to destroy his political career, but the decision has sparked finger pointing between the DA and ANC.
The latest court decision comes after a drawn-out legal battle which was initiated after Bitou Speaker Euan Wildeman announced Lobese's suspension during a special council meeting in June.
The suspension followed a long and convoluted run-up that started with a unanimous vote of no confidence in Lobese in April this year. In May the DA, along with the AUF, attempted to topple the ANCrun municipality by electing DA Caucus Leader Bill Nel as mayor. This election took place during a council meeting that, though attended only by the DA and the AUF, made up the majority of councillors and saw Lobese siding with the DA.
The ANC then challenged the election in the Western Cape High Court. On 3 June the court ordered that the meeting in which Nel had been elected as mayor was null and void and ordered that a new mayor be elected on 8 June. During the 8 June meeting, however, Wildeman moved to suspend Lobese, referencing a criminal case involving alleged corruption, fraud and racketeering that had been opened against him. This blocked Lobese from casting his vote for a new mayor, leading to a split vote between the DA candidate, Nel, and the ANC candidate, Sandiso Gcabayi, who is currently acting mayor of Bitou. The DA then turned to the court to declare Lobese's suspension illegal. According to the code of conduct for councillors, a disciplinary process needs to be followed after which the MEC for local government has to make the call to suspend a councillor or not. This process was apparently not followed. The court found in their favour, but it then came to light that the ANC was appealing the decision.
On 10 September the court overturned the initial court decision that Lobese's suspension was illegal.
Lobese described the process as "unfair, unacceptable" and said it should be "condemned at all costs". He believed that the decision was made without any formal council disciplinary process or an opportunity to state his side of the story in court. "This is clearly a political ploy to destroy my political career and the growth of my party," he said.
He added that while the case was set to be heard on 19 October, no arguments were brought before the judge.
"Since the merits of the case were not presented before the judge, it will be difficult for me to accept this unfair treatment. We will dispute this suspension with the contempt it deserves."
Lobese said he would be meeting with his party to discuss the way forward.
DA caucus leader in Bitou, Bill Nel, said however that the party was pleased to see an "apparent movement" in response to a Section 106 investigation currently underway. "We remain concerned that this process is far from complete and that justice has thus far been applied selectively, serving only to strengthen the undemocratic clinging to power by the illegitimate ANC regime in Bitou," Nel said.
He averred that certain ANC councillors were also under investigation and made it clear that the Section 106 report must be investigated fully, including all parties named, and that no one named in that report would receive any protection from the DA. "The DA is also acutely aware of the ANC attempts to approve a new organogram drawn up to legitimise appointments that they have already made that are not on the current organogram and are thus illegal. With the removal of the AUF councillor and not their own councillors as well, the ANC will be able to push this and other items through council by virtue of their speaker’s casting vote when there is a tied vote. Fortunately, the speaker's casting vote does not apply for items such as the passing of the budget and IDP or by-laws and the election of a mayor by council."
Gcabayi applauded the court's decision, but used the opportunity to blast the DA for "turning a blind eye to the significant prima facie evidence of fraud, corruption and racketeering against Lobese in a forensic report commissioned by local government MEC Anton Bredell".