The former mayor of Abaqulusi (Vryheid) Local Municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mncedisi Maphisa, and his former deputy, Mandla Mazibuko, and two other IFP councillors in the same municipality have taken to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to have their demotion to ordinary councillors set aside.
The four are challenging the final sanction that was ratified by KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Bongi Sithole-Moloi in June this year.
The ratification to demote them followed findings of wrongdoing by a special ethics committee, and as a result, they lost their exco (executive committee) seats, which they had occupied since November 2021.
At the time of the decision, Maphisa had already been removed as mayor by his party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). However, he was still a member of the decision-making executive committee until the MEC ratified that decision, which further downgraded him.
The IFP removed him after he made insensitive remarks about women during a closed-door meeting with senior managers of the municipality.
Mazibuko and the two other councillors, Linda Mtshali and Mbekezeli Mtshali, were punished for refusing to testify against the former mayor (Maphisa) before the committee that was chaired by DA councillor Swelakhe Shelembe and was probing the remarks.
In the court papers, Maphisa and the others are arguing that the committee failed to observe the audi partem rule, had no authority to investigate them, and when it did, it exceeded its authority and used "the wrong factors" in arriving at its decision.
"The committee failed to afford the applicants an opportunity to tell their versions prior to concluding on the applicants' guilt, and secondly, the committee did not afford the applicants an opportunity to make submissions prior to formulating its recommendation to the Council," read the court papers.
To compound matters, they argue that the committee made adverse findings against them without affording them an opportunity to comment.
"Based on the adverse findings, the committee recommended that the applicants be removed or suspended without giving them an opportunity to make submissions in respect of the recommendations to the Council. The recommendations adversely affect the applicants. I submit that the committee's failure to afford the applicants a hearing was unlawful," further read the papers.
Coming to the issue of authority for the committee, the four councillors said the committee had none, hence its findings should be set aside.
"The committee's delegated authority to conduct the investigation had expired. Therefore, the actions of the committee were unlawful, in so far as it purports to investigate the matter in April 2023, as it had no authority to do so."
They further argue that the committee exceeded its authority.
"The committee further extended its scope unilaterally to include recommendations for people that were not part of its mandate or issues beyond its delegated authority.
"This resulted in the sanctions being imposed on the second, third, and fourth applicants. This unilateral extension of the mandate was unlawful."
The matter is set for hearing on August 21, 2023, and it is not yet clear whether the MEC and the municipality will oppose the application or not.