High Court triumph for DA: KZN municipality's unlawful exco appointment overturned

From left, Shara Singh, DA Umdoni caucus leader with Shamila Sookhraj, DA Umdoni chief whip and Dean Macpherson, DA KZN chairperson, after today’s high court victory. Picture: Supplied

From left, Shara Singh, DA Umdoni caucus leader with Shamila Sookhraj, DA Umdoni chief whip and Dean Macpherson, DA KZN chairperson, after today’s high court victory. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 15, 2024


The KwaZulu-Natal High Court today overturned the decision of Umdoni municipal manager, Thabisile Ndlela, to replace a Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor with an African National Congress (ANC) member on the council's Executive Committee.

The court ruled that Ndlela’s “blatant” actions were worthy of personal censure, and that the appointment she made was invalid.

The landmark judgment today by Justice ZP Nkosi of the High Court, delivered a decision with significant implications for local government politics and governance. The case centred around a contentious decision by Ndlela, the Umdoni Local Municipality's municipal manager not to recognise the DA appointment of councillor Shamila Sookhraj to the Executive Committee (Exco).

The Umdoni Municipality is a local municipality within the Ugu District Municipality, on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast famed for its pristine beaches and is a popular tourist destination.

The dispute originated following the 2021 Municipal Elections, where the ANC won 17 seats and the DA secured seven in the Umdoni Local Council. After DA councillor Edwin Baptie's resignation in August 2022, a vacancy arose in the Exco, to which the DA appointed councillor Sookhraj.

However, in a twist, Ndlela instead facilitated the election of ANC councillor Ravinand Maharaj to fill the vacancy in February 2023, prompting legal action from the DA and councillor Sookhraj.

The court declared Ndlela's decision not to recognise councillor Sookhraj's appointment as unlawful, and it was subsequently reviewed and set aside.

Furthermore, the court confirmed that the DA's appointment of councillor Sookhraj was valid.

In a further blow, Justice Nkosi ruled that Ndlela must pay the costs of the application, including the costs of the DA’s two counsels in her personal capacity.

The judge said Ndlela’s actions were, “blatant and egregious - a clear instance of a deliberate neglect of constitutional duty. Such conduct is deserving of a personal censure”.

Justice Nkosi's ruling hinged on a detailed interpretation of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, particularly section 43(2). The court emphasised that the allocation of Exco seats to political parties is governed by a specific formula, and the appointing authority lies with the party to which the seat was initially allocated.

His interpretation aligns with the recent amendments to the Act in 2021, reflecting a legislative intent to maintain the stability of Exco composition throughout a council's term, regardless of subsequent changes in council composition.

This ruling sets a precedent for how vacancies in municipal committees are filled, and spotlights the sanctity of party appointments to such positions.

DA KZN chairperson, Dean Macpherson hailed the judgment.

“Today’s court ruling should serve as a deterrent and a reminder that the DA will not tolerate lawlessness in local governance,” Macpherson said.

“We believe our court victory sets the tone on the importance of clean governance and what happens when laws are violated by those driven by arrogance and put the pursuit of their own agenda above the basic needs of the people.

“The ANC’s desperation to cling to power has pushed it to a point of complete disregard for the laws of governance and is now simply driven by fear and panic.

“The ANC can no longer be allowed to do as it pleases, with little or no consequence. This year’s elections will be a crucial turning point in our country’s democracy and spheres of governance,” he said.

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