Durban bylaw may bar media, public from crucial meetings
THE Durban city council has approved a controversial bylaw which could effectively ban the media and the public from attending some of its crucial meetings.
The approval comes despite strong objection from opposition parties and civil society organisations.
Even a demonstration by civil society organisations outside Durban’s International Convention Centre on Wednesday against adoption of the Rules of Order Amendment By-Law did not stop the ANC-controlled eThekwini municipality from voting in favour of the law.
The DA also tried unsuccessfully to push for another debate on the amendments before any voting took place but were overruled by council speaker William Mapena, who said the matter had been deferred in October for voting.
In a statement issued late on Wednesday‚ the city dismissed claims by the opposition and civil society organisations that the bylaw was unconstitutional as incorrect and said that there was nothing untoward about the amendment.
“Section 160 of the constitution as well as Section 20 of the Municipal Systems Act provides clear guidelines for holding municipal meetings,” city head of communications Tozi Mthethwa said.
“Both state that a municipal committee or council must open their meeting to the public.
“However‚ the legislation further provides for certain meetings to be closed to the public subject to the nature of the issues being discussed.”
The adoption of the bylaw now effectively means the city may close its meetings to the public and the media if there might be a disclosure of:
Confidential information regarding any person;
Any investigation‚ report or internal audit report that could be compromised by its public disclosure; and
Trade secrets of the municipality or financial‚ business‚ scientific or technical information which is likely to cause prejudice to the business or interests of the municipality.
But civil society groups and the opposition indicated they would consider challenging the bylaw in court.
Meanwhile‚ the DA’s Nicole Graham said the adoption of the law pointed to the ANC-led council heading down a dangerous path.
“The proposed amendment bylaw is a threat to the democratic functioning of the council.
“It allows for arbitrary and autocratic decision-making . . . [and] gags councillors and the media.”
Legislation provides for certain meetings to be closed to the public