Cape Town - In an unprecedented move, the City of Cape Town’s Speaker Dirk Smit ordered the entire ANC caucus to leave the council chamber on Thursday.
When it refused to do so, the DA and other parties decamped to the Banqueting Hall and continued their meeting behind locked doors.
After it was barred by metro police and the city’s VIP security unit, the ANC tried to get an urgent interdict to halt the meeting.
The party failed to stop the meeting, but its leadership said it would call for a motion of no confidence in Smit for his decision to move the council meeting to a new venue and bar the ANC.
Smit’s conduct would also be reported to the South African Association of Local Government and the national Department of Co-operative Governance.
Tony Ehrenreich, ANC leader in the metro, said: “This was a violation of council procedures. We will take legal action and interdict the meeting and the decisions they are taking because this meeting has not been properly constituted in respect of the rules and procedures of the council. This is a matter the ANC is pursuing and it will appear on the court roll in the next few days.”
One councillor was injured in an altercation with law enforcement officials, as ANC councillors stood outside the door that was chained closed and barricaded by metro police.
The stand-off was started by a refusal from ANC councillor Luvuyo Zondani to apologise for comments made to DA councillor Ian Iversen at the March council meeting. Proceedings were delayed for about two hours after the Speaker ordered Zondani to leave the chamber.
Although the recording of the meeting indicated that Zondani had said: “…it is a pathological lie by that Councillor Iversen”, the Speaker said Zondani had called Iversen a “pathological liar”.
The ANC denied this interpretation. When Zondani refused to either apologise or to leave the chamber, Smit adjourned the meeting.
When the meeting resumed, and the councillor again refused to comply, Smit ordered all the ANC councillors to leave the chamber.
They refused. “We are not going anywhere. We want the DA to engage us,” said ANC chief whip Xolani Sotashe.
But Smit stood by his ruling, and after a discussion with the city manager, announced the meeting would move to the Banqueting Hall, leaving the ANC in the council chamber.
Political insults flew during the stand-off, with Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille – referring to refurbishments to President Jacob Zuma’s private home – saying: “It’s not Nkandla here.”
As the DA councillors filed out, Sotashe appealed to his caucus for calm. “It is clear this is to frustrate us. We are part of this council and this is a multiparty council. This is the Speaker making his own decision to exclude the ANC.”
He said the ANC had to tread carefully with its approach. “They want us to fight with the police, and for hell to break loose.”
Sotashe led his councillors to the Banqueting Hall, where they found the doors locked. They told metro police they were there for the meeting. “Please move, we are not criminals.”
But the VIP security staff said they had been instructed by the city manager to stop the ANC from entering.
The ANC’s demand for a written copy of this instruction was ignored.
Mayoral committee member JP Smith and Carin Brynhard, chairwoman of the safety and security portfolio committee, arrived late for the meeting but police ushered them in via a side door. ANC councillor Carolina Scheepers tried to enter too, but she was pushed aside by security officials.
Scheepers’s arm was injured in the scuffle. She said she would lay a charge of assault.
With the doors locked and the council meeting under way without the ANC, the excluded councillors had no option but to walk away.
The ANC said the decision to move the meeting and bar its members was a trap and an election ploy.
Sotashe said as he faced a barricade of armed security officials: “The DA has created this myth that we want to make the city ungovernable. We will go back peacefully. We know these are the last kicks of a dying horse. And they know that from May 7 this Western Cape is gone. They want to be able to say: ‘Look at that bunch of hooligans’.”
ANC councillor Koos Bredenhand, who has been a councillor for almost 20 years, said the exclusion of the ANC smacked of apartheid-style tactics. “They want to keep the blacks out. I have never seen this before.”
Bredenhand, who is an alderman, said the Speaker had to present each ANC councillor with charges of misconduct before he could kick them out of a meeting.
“Show me the charge sheet. This is rubbish.”
Sotashe said Smit was a “puppet” of the majority party, and he was fighting for his political life before the 2016 local government elections.
Sotashe also blamed the DA’s behaviour on electioneering. “This thing that happened today has nothing to do with the council. It’s an election ploy. Frustrate them, and they will walk out. We have never experienced this kind of behaviour. The Speaker has lost the plot completely.”
He said the defection of former mayoral committee member Grant Pascoe had paralysed them. “They don’t even trust each other.”
But his last salvo was to De Lille. “The rot starts from the head. But I did not expect this from the mayor. She behaved like a street girl.”
When the mayor eventually did get to make her speech, two hours late in the Banqueting Hall, she said: “The truth is the ANC ran out of ideas faster than it ran out of cement to build Nkandla.”
De Lille also issued a statement during the fracas outside the temporary venue. She said: “This is clearly part of a deliberate and planned strategy to disrupt the work of the council. As a result of the ANC’s complete disregard for the important work of the council and the fact that they appear determined to waste ratepayers’ money, the decision was taken to move the council meeting from the chamber to an alternative venue – without the ANC.”
This was to send a “strong message that the ANC’s ungovernability campaign would not be tolerated”.
Ehrenreich later told the media the deployment of security staff was a misuse of state funds. He also rejected the mayor’s allegations that the ANC was again bringing “ungovernability” to the city council.
“We’ve executed remarkable restraint under intense provocation by the DA,” he said.
The ANC would seek legal advice as important decisions that would have a “profound impact” on communities were being made without ANC input.