Acting eThekwini mayor Fawzia Peer. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Fawzia Peer, the acting eThekwini mayor, spent Thursday night in the intensive care unit (ICU) at a Durban hospital after apparently being poisoned during a full council meeting.

ANC chief whip Nelisiwe Nyanisa, who was sitting next to Peer, said her colleague had been drinking water from a water bottle that had initially been closed. Peer noticed that the water smelled of paraffin and asked her to also smell it. Nyanisa agreed it smelled of paraffin and passed the bottle to fellow ANC exco members Sipho Kaunda and Barbara Fortein, who confirmed Peer’s suspicions.

An assistant called “Belinda” was called to report the matter to Speaker William Mapena.

When Peer complained about feeling dizzy, Nyanisa helped Peer out of the chamber and took her to bodyguards who had been waiting for her. She said Peer’s condition progressively deteriorated and she began vomiting as she headed to Nyanisa’s office.

It is believed Peer was complaining about a burning sensation in her mouth and throat before she was rushed to City Hospital in the Durban CBD, where she was admitted to the ICU.

Nyanisa said the bottle of water was sent to a laboratory for testing.

The incident shocked Nyanisa, but she asked people not to jump to conclusions and wait for the laboratory results.

None of Peer’s family members were at the hospital as it is believed that most of them are overseas.

Sources told the Daily News that doctors were working on flushing the poisonous substance out of her body.

She would be kept in the ICU ward overnight for further treatment and observation.

Members of the metro police who escorted Peer’s official vehicle stood guard at the entrance of the hospital.

“She is in the ICU and the doctors have decided to admit her. She is sedated from the treatment she has been given and cannot attend to any phone calls. It is believed that the chemical or whatever was in the water is extremely harmful; that is why she has been rushed to the ICU,” said a source at the hospital.

eThekwini spokesperson Mandla Nsele denied it was poisoning.

“For precautionary measures, she went to the doctor for a check-up. The water she consumed has been sent to a laboratory for testing. We will await the results from the laboratory as well as her doctor’s findings before reaching any conclusion on the matter,” he said.

The incident was preceded by city manager Sipho Nzuza being harangued by ANC councillors.

Opposition party members at the council meeting said Nzuza was surrounded by ANC councillors loyal to suspended mayor Zandile Gumede.

It is believed the councillors tackled Nzuza over a report by the Daily News’s sister paper, The Mercury, that he had turned state witness against the beleaguered Gumede, who faces fraud and corruption charges relating to a R200million waste collection tender.

Political analyst Protas Madlala said the tensions within the ANC had been set aside to focus on winning this year’s elections. After the elections were won, he said, the old factions had re-emerged.

Madlala said the divisions within the ANC ran from branch level all the way up to Luthuli House.

The divisions were not about service delivery, he said. Instead, the fights were over control of patronage. He lamented the tender system that caused patronage issues. IFP executive council member Mdu Nkosi said on Thursday’s events demonstrated that the ANC was a house divided. “It is an unfortunate situation,” he said.

Nkosi said the divisions within the ANC could lead to chaos within the party as it was failing to contain internal conflicts that were now becoming public. In the 13 years he had been in council, this was the first time he had seen the party in such a state, he said.

Nkosi said the divisions were demonstrated at on Thursday’s council meeting by the ANC councillors having to have three caucuses to discuss issues. The divisions made it hard for opposition members to debate issues as they could be inadvertently supporting a particular faction of the ANC, he said.

As much as he was part of the opposition, he did not like seeing the ruling party in such a divided state. People on the ground suffered the most because of the ruling party’s conflicts, Nkosi said.

DA caucus leader Nicole Graham said there was “open warfare” within the ANC as tensions spilled over. She said the situation would continue until the Gumede situation had been put to rest. Graham said there was a fear within the ANC that should Gumede fall, she would take other people down with her.

Nyanisa said the city was still safe in the hands of the ANC and that the party was still functional. 

 Additional reporting by Sne Masuku

Daily News