Durban – Intimidation, insults, allegations of sexism and threats of violence and criminal charges were part of eThekwini Municipality’s full council meeting that degenerated into chaos at the City Hall on Thursday.
A debate on a R56-million budget adjustment for metro police took an ugly turn that lasted through the afternoon.
The adjustment is to pay for the extra hours worked by the understaffed department.
An ANC councillor shouted unprintable words to the opposition councillors, another threatened to assault DA councillor Nicole Graham, prompting her party leader Zwakele Mncwango to demand a withdrawal of the threat, and the DA threatened criminal charges.
It got worse as ANC councillors whistled when a woman member walked by in front of them, leading the DA to accuse the ANC of sexism, saying it created an unfriendly working environment for female councillors.
The meeting started at 12:30pm and by 5pm was not even halfway through the 51-page main agenda, with the supplementary agenda still to be tackled as the proceedings moved slowly, halted by points of orders and interjections.
So were the exchanges that speaker William Mapena reminded councillors to keep political exchanges to the confines of the city hall and not let them escalate outside the meeting.
“I hope you councillors will keep that exchange inside this building,” said Mapena, warning an ANC councillor and independent councillor Malombo Nxumalo from Inchanga after the two had exchanged words.
Nxumalo, an SACP member, has a tense relationship with the ANC after he stood as an independent candidate in Inchanga and trounced the ANC’s preferred choice.
Time and again Mapena was forced to call the councillors to order and remind them to behave with decorum.
It was Mncwango who got the “tension ball” rolling after arguing that the decision to adjust the R56m budget was prioritising the lives of councillors instead of the people, by providing councillors with metro officers, sometimes for 24 hours a day.
He said: “We have to develop a culture of credibility and serving the community instead of being self-serving. Councillors are becoming more important than the community.”
This prompted mayor Zandile Gumede to fire back, saying Mncwango should remember that he was her junior.
“He (Mncwango) should also remember that a decision was taken to stop more work being done outside this municipality,” she said in reference to the use of the metro police to guard councillors instead of hiring private security guards.
At this point, an ANC councillor uttered expletives directed towards Mncwango, soon after Graham was threatened with assault.
“It is unacceptable that a council member is threatened with violence in this house, a female member at that,” retorted Mncwango.
Councillors in the ANC benches muttered “this meeting is degenerating” as the tension continued long into the afternoon with the issue unresolved.