Lebogang Maile. Picture: ALON SKUY
Lebogang Maile. Picture: ALON SKUY

Gauteng co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC Lebogang Maile has dared the DA to launch an urgent court challenge against him after he suspended both the speakers of the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros.

This after the MEC failed to honour a 5pm deadline set by the DA’s attorneys on Thursday to rescind his decision to suspend Tshwane council speaker Katlego Mathebe and former Joburg speaker Vasco da Gama.

“The decision still stands. The two councillors remain suspended,” said Maile’s spokesperson Castro Ngobese at 5.27pm on Thursday.

Maile suspended Da Gama, a DA councillor, for three months without pay, and Mathebe for six months, for allegedly breaching the code of conduct in the Municipal Systems Act. The sanctions come as the official opposition party is scrambling to hold onto the metros it led after the watershed local government elections in 2016.

The DA, which describes the suspension as smacking of political harassment, recently lost control of the City of Johannesburg to the ANC. It is also expected to lose control of the capital Tshwane after a sex scandal involving mayor Stevens Mokgalapa.

The party is also reeling from the resignation of former leader Mmusi Maimane, who quit the party almost at the same time as Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, and the resignation of Athol Trollip as federal chair in October 2019.

In December, Maile threatened to place the capital city under administration for allegedly failing to generate revenue and pay its creditors, among other reasons.

Last week he warned Mathebe not to lead a council meeting to discuss a motion of no confidence against her and Mokgalapa  into chaos, as happened at a previous council meeting when she left midway. That meeting was to also discuss a motion of no confidence against the pair. Both were removed, but the outcome of the meeting is being challenged by the DA in court. But the council meeting on Thursday last week descended into chaos after Mathebe threatened to bring in security personnel.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the ANC in Gauteng said it welcomed Maile’s decision to suspend the pair, saying the reasons he had provided for doing so are “compelling”.

“Da Gama and Mathebe placed the narrow interests of their political party, the DA, ahead of those of the residents of the two municipalities when they deliberately acted in a manner that sought to subvert the unfolding of democratic processes in council,” the statement said, adding that Maile’s failure to act would have had serious implications for the proper functioning of the two councils.

But the DA’s legal representatives, Minde Schapiro & Smith, in a letter to Maile on Thursday, stated that his decisions are “patently unlawful and stand to be set aside”.

“Your decision will prevent democratically elected councillors from representing the voters who elected them. As such, your decision will cause immediate prejudice to our client as well as the residents of Tshwane and Johannesburg.”

The lawyers said Maile’s decision will achieve “what the ANC and EFF have, despite multiple attempts, failed to accomplish through lawful means”.

“Given your recent events in Tshwane and Johannesburg and the patent unlawfulness of your conduct, our client can only conclude that your decisions are not a bona fide attempt to discipline Matheba and Da Gama. It is clear that the decisions have been taken in pursuit of an ulterior motive,” the letter stated.

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen has characterised the suspensions as illegal and a select application of the law, saying the MEC could not suspend the two DA councillors “without getting a council resolution”.

“The DA will not give in to the bullying tactics of MEC Maile. We have instructed our lawyers to approach the courts on an urgent basis to review this illegal move,” said Steenhuisen. “We have also written to the MEC to invite him to retract his unlawful decision, failing which we will apply for a personal and punitive cost order against Maile.”

Steenhuisen said Maile’s action highlights what South Africans know, “that the ANC is a self-serving organisation and only uses and abuses the law when it is beneficial to [it] ... When former Emfuleni mayor Simon Mofokeng was accused of spending more than R1.7m of public money on KFC, Nandos and hotels, he was not fired or suspended for misconduct.

“Moreover, the former mayor of eThekwini, Zandile Gumede, who has been implicated in fraud and corruption, was also not removed from office or suspended ... There are many such instances, including the new mayor of Johannesburg, Geoff Makhubo.”

Maile told Business Day on Thursday that he respects that the party will approach the courts. “We respect the courts as the provincial government, because we know that they have the final say in the interpretation of the laws of this country.” 

Maile said he was “acting in the best interests of the residents of Joburg and Tshwane” and that “we will meet them in court”.

Maile said in a statement later that Mathebe “failed to fulfil her statutory duties by failing to preside over the council meeting held on December 5 2019”, while characterising Da Gama as a “constitutional delinquent” for allegedly failing to comply with the law in the execution of his duties.

“Our decisions in respect of both councillors are consistent with the law, and impartial, to avoid any accusation of tilting the balance of forces in councils to favour a particular political party,” Maile said.

“It is imperative to note that these decisions are based on strengthening local government by ensuring those elected into positions of responsibility carry out their work in the best interest of the electorate.” 

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za

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