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

The decision by the Gauteng provincial government to lift the suspension of two senior councillors in the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros was just a tactical retreat aimed at strengthening the case against them, according to co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC Lebohang Maile.

Last week, Maile suspended former Johannesburg speaker Vasco Da Gama as a councillor for three months, while Tshwane speaker Katlego Mathebe was suspended for six months. Both suspensions were without pay.

The councillors’ party took the MEC to court challenging the suspension, but Maile reversed them on Monday, a day before the matter was set to be heard in court, citing further legal advice from senior counsel.

“All we are doing is to strengthen our case, not to retreat,” Maile said.

Maile told journalists in Johannesburg that the decision to suspend the councillors was not taken lightly and in a “partisan”  way, but rather in the spirit of good co-operative governance. “The merit and correctness of the decision remains, as our actions have been consistent with the constitution and pertinent municipal legislation.” 

Mail said the department maintains that the conduct of Da Gama and Mathebe constitutes “gross abuse of office, dereliction of legislative duties and caused harm to residents of both cities”.

He said because the provincial government believed in the merits of the cases against Da Gama and Mathebe, he has written a directive to the chief whip in Tshwane to conduct an investigation into the matter, as well as accepted a request from the chief whip of the City of Johannesburg to look into the matter and come to a final determination in a week.

Maile has been adamant that his decision to suspend the pair was lawful. He said, however, that the provincial department was only made aware of two Western Cape high court judgments relevant to the provision in the Municipal Systems Act that he used to suspend the pair after he had taken his decision to suspend them. The DA referred to the two judgments in its letter demanding the reinstatement of the two, which it sent to Maile soon after the suspensions.

As a result of the consultation with the province’s lawyers, the ball has been kicked back in to the court of the councils.

The suspension saga comes as the metropolitan municipalities  — two of the biggest in SA — has undergone significant political turmoil as parties jostle for control in the two hung councils.

Amid the drama, which saw political leadership change hands in Johannesburg following the resignation of former mayor Herman Mashaba, and attempts by the ANC and the EFF to unseat DA mayor Stevens Mokgalapa in Tshwane, Maile has been accused of abusing his powers for political gain. Maile, who is a senior member of the ANC in Gauteng, has refuted this.

The DA has been adamant that Maile cannot unilaterally suspend the councillors by using the Municipal Systems Act, as the request had to be made by the council for him to do so.

mailovichc@businesslive.co.za