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DURBAN - Twenty-three civil society organisations are expected to picket outside the Durban City Hall on Wednesday against the amended rule of order which allows the Speaker, as well as the chairperson of eThekwini’s executive council, to exclude the public and media from some exco meetings.

The amendment “which was passed by eThekwini in December, has been described by the Active Citizen’s Movement (ACM) as inconsistent with the country’s constitution.

“No one is clean in the municipality. If meetings are closed off (to people) who (have) interest in it are they protecting themselves?” said Ben Madokwe, the chairperson of the ACM.

He explained that they also picketed at the full council meeting held at the International Convention Centre in December. A memorandum was handed over to express their dissatisfaction with the decision taken.

The organisations said Wednesday’s picket would also serve to launch Black Wednesday. This is a campaign to sensitise the public about the amended rule of order.

“We encourage members of the public to join us in our picket as this affects them and their access to information as to what is going on in their municipality as ratepayers,” said Madokwe.

Response

He said those who would not be able to come to the picket could wear black to their workplace as a sign of support for the campaign.

Madokwe added that at next week’s picket they expected a response to the memorandum which they had handed to the city in December.

The amended rule of order gives power to the Speaker and exco chair to ban the recording of proceedings in meetings, as well as to punish councillors and the media who disclose the contents of closed meetings.

“Was civil society kept in the dark about this decision to amend the rule of order and why did the city rush to pass the amendment without consulting civil society?

“This is undemocratic,” said Madokwe. He said the coalition of civil society was also looking at taking the legal route with regard to the matter.

“We are going to challenge this thing in the high court,” he said, adding that they were calling for the amendment to be rescinded because it infringed upon the right to open and transparent meetings as protected by the Local Government Municipal Systems Act.

Chairperson of Abahlali BaseMjondolo, Sbu Zikode, said secrecy had no place in a democratic society.

“Our right to know, our right to information, especially when it comes to council, since they represent the public, is highly important,” he said.

Zikode said the city’s move was concerning and raised some questions as well.

“What is it that they want to hide from the public eye? We think there is more to this undemocratic and unconstitutional decision.”

Vusi Zweni, the chairperson of Ubunyebamahostela, also part of coalition, said just this week they had raised this very issue of transparency at the city hall.

“We met with someone from the city on Monday - we had gone to complain about councillors and transparency. How much worse is it going to be now?” he asked.

He said it was strange that officials in the city who were in their positions because of the public now wanted to shut the public out. “This decision is wrong,” said Zweni.

Municipal spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said it was incorrect to claim that amending the rule of order was unconstitutional.

She said there was nothing untoward about the by-law amendment that was approved by the full council by majority vote.

“Section 160 of the constitution, as well as Section 20 of the Municipal Systems Act, provides clear guidelines for holding municipal meetings. (The legislation), however, further provides for certain meetings to be closed to the public subject to the nature of the issues being discussed.”

Mthethwa said the city amended the rules of order amendment by-law by specifying under what circumstances the meetings would be closed to the public.