The Tshwane Metro city council. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI
The Tshwane Metro city council. Picture: THAPELO MOREBUDI

The top political position in the City of Tshwane is once again open for contestation after the high court set aside the dissolution of the council, saying the move was inappropriate, unlawful and drastic.

The council was dissolved by the Gauteng provincial government in March after council meetings constantly collapsed. The municipality had no mayor, no mayoral committee and no municipal manager at the time it was dissolved. 

A new mayor — a third for Tshwane in the past four years — will now have to be elected.

The municipality was governed by a DA-led coalition after the 2016 local government elections until mayor Stevens Mokgalapa was voted out of office in a motion of no confidence. The council was unable to vote a new mayor in and the ANC-led provincial government moved to dissolve it, citing the failure as one of the reasons for the dissolution.

In a significant victory for the DA, the high court said the decision by the provincial government was too drastic. It said there were less intrusive measures that could have been taken by the provincial executive to address the root cause of the council’s inability to do its job.

While the provincial executive justified the move to dissolve the council with a multitude of reasons, the court said the high water marks of its claims were that the municipality was leaderless, and that the council meetings continually collapsed.

The court, however, pointed out the role of the EFF and ANC councillors, whose walkouts led to the meetings collapsing, saying the province could have taken action against those councillors, but did not. 

The court said the less intrusive measures that could have been taken were not considered. “This is what impels us to conclude that taking the dissolution decision was inappropriate.” 

The court ordered that the EFF and ANC councillors attend council meetings and remain in attendance unless they have a lawful reason to be absent.

The orders given by the court pertaining to setting aside the dissolution, as well as ordering the EFF and ANC councillors to be present at council meetings, were suspended until five days after level five of the lockdown is lifted. 

SA is set to go to level four of the nationwide lockdown on Friday.  

Important victory

DA leader John Steenhuisen said the judgment is an important victory for the residents of Tshwane and “every citizen residing in towns and cities across SA”. He said the judgment will protect citizens from the undemocratic interference by provincial governments.

He said the the ANC is likely to lose more municipalities to minority governments in the 2021 local government elections, and if the court had not set aside the decision, nothing would have prevented the provincial governments it leads to follow this route whenever they did not have power. 

Given the criticism leveled in the judgment against Lebogang Maile, the MEC for local government in Gauteng, who spearheaded the interventions in the capital city, Steenhuisen said the DA will call for his immediate suspension.  

He said the party will also take action in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), which endorsed Gauteng’s decision to dissolve the council. 

The Gauteng executive council, which took the decision to dissolve the Tshwane council, said in a statement that it will study the judgment and decide on what appropriate steps to take, saying, “We reiterate our full confidence in the judiciary of the Republic of SA.” 

Update: April 29 2020
This article has been updated with comment and new information throughout.