News / 28 June 2019, 1:30pm / Kailene Pillay and Se-Anne Rall
Durban - ETHEKWINI acting Mayor Fawzia Peer was under heavy police guard at a Durban hospital last night where she was receiving treatment after she was allegedly poisoned at a full council meeting.
A source close to Peer told The Mercury she was poisoned after drinking bottled water believed to have been laced with paraffin and had been taken to hospital for urgent medical attention. Peer, claimed the source, had been poisoned as part an attempt to disrupt the council meeting in the wake of the suspension of Mayor Zandile Gumede.
Another source close to Peer described to The Mercury how the poisoning incident sparked pandemonium at an already chaotic council meeting yesterday.
“At the start of the council meeting, each person gets a bottle of water. After lunch Peer opened her bottle to drink, but after the first sip she inhaled a strong smell of paraffin and her tongue and throat started to burn,” said the source.
The source said the incident led to council speaker William Lekgoa Mapena alerting other councillors not to drink the council-supplied water.
“Peer was rushed to hospital where tests were taken and she is waiting for results from doctors,” said the source.
The source said that when Peer accepted the job, she knew the risks involved but she did not think that could involve losing her life.
“Her family is asking her to leave the council as they want her to stay alive, said the source.
In a statement issued by eThekwini spokesperson Mandla Nsele, the city said it could not confirm that Peer was poisoned. Nsele said he could only confirm that Peer complained about the taste of the water she had consumed during the council meeting.
Nsele said that for precautionary measures, Peer went to a doctor for a check-up and the water she consumed had been sent to the laboratory for testing.
“We will wait for the results from the laboratory as well as her doctor’s findings before making any conclusion on the matter,” Nsele said.
When pressed on the matter, he maintained that “at this stage” Peer’s poisoning remained an allegation.
The DA’s eThekwini caucus leader, Nicole Graham, said that the incident was “very concerning”.
“This council has become characterised by thuggery and chaos,” she said.
Soon after the incident happened, Graham tweeted: “The Speaker just announced that there is paraffin in someone’s water bottle and told us not to drink the water. The deputy mayor just left abruptly covering her mouth. What the hell just happened?!”
The IFP’s Mdu Nkosi said they were on the last item of the agenda when they saw Peer take a sip of her bottled water.
He said Peer’s facial expression changed and she handed the bottle to ANC chief whip Nelly Nyanisa, who called officials to smell the water.
One of the officials then reported to the Speaker, who made an announcement warning councillors not to drink the water that was placed on the tables.
“We are still so shocked at this incident. This means you can’t trust anyone. We all fear for our lives now. Today it is you, but tomorrow it might be me,” Nkosi said.
The EFF party leader Mlebuka Hlengwa said that although they were shocked at the incident, they understood the current political tension in the ANC, adding that Gumede’s “forces were too strong in the city”.
ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said that they will speak to Peer once she was out of hospital.
“We are hoping that she knows more about the incident and can help us shed light on the matter. As the ANC, we are concerned that one of the comrades has ended up in hospital due to poisoning. However, at the moment we cannot speculate on the matter until we have all the facts and have spoken to the acting mayor,” Ntuli said.
The eThekwini Cluster Community Police Forum chairperson, Imtiaz Sayed, said that he was deeply concerned about the alleged poisoning.
“Politics has become a dangerous game. We are really concerned about her safety. The issues between (embattled) Mayor Zandile Gumede and the ANC have become dangerous for the deputy mayor.”
Rescue Care spokesperson Garrith Jamieson said that consuming paraffin in large doses could cause abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
“However, if diluted, a person would have to consume a large quantity of the water to have any effect,” he said.