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Pretoria - “He does not have to see. He has to listen.” These words from ANC councillor Joe Mkhize led to the DA’s accusing the City of Tshwane of discriminating against one of the opposition’s councillors, who is visually impaired, during a section 79 oversight committee meeting on Thursday.
Hentie Nortjé, who attended a committee meeting two months ago with a voice recorder he uses to capture proceedings, was told by Mkhize, who chaired the meeting, that he was not allowed to use the recording device.
Since then, Nortjé has not been able to use his recorder during meetings.
Nortjé, who has only 1.5 percent vision in his one eye and 0.75 percent in the other, said he relied on the recordings to “overcome his difficulties”.
“During the meeting (Thursday), a report was presented verbally without any form of visual or printed reference. Without making use of a personal voice recorder, it is very difficult for Councillor Nortjé to make notes to further interrogate the report,” another councillor, Bruce Lee, said.
Nortjé later asked to be excused from the meeting because he could not benefit from the presentation by a representative of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities.
“How am I supposed to take notes? I cannot read the presentation, so I asked to leave,” Nortjé said.
Mkhize defended his decision, saying only secretariats were allowed to officially record council proceedings. The DA had access to the recordings if it wanted to consult them, he said.
“He (Nortjé) is not allowed to record the meeting. Otherwise the recordings can get out to anyone.”
When asked about Nortjé’s impairment, Mkhize said the meeting required Nortjé to listen and not to see. “He does not need to see. He has to listen to what we say in the meeting,” Mkhize said.
“It should be noted from the outset that the councillor is not deaf, but blind; he can therefore hear and engage in discussions like he always does in all other committee/council meetings,” council spokesman Blessing Manale said.
Lee claimed the DA had asked for documentation stating that recorders in meetings were disallowed, but Mkhize had failed to produce the documents for the past two months.
“The chairperson declined the request and openly admitted discrimination towards Councillor Nortjé’s plight,” Lee said.
Nortjé said he would continue to fight to use his recorder as a matter of principle.
“If I cannot stand up for my own disability, how must I as a public servant stand up for the needs of others who suffer?” Nortjé asked.