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DURBAN - Advocacy and civil society groups gathered at Durban’s city hall on Wednesday to protest eThekwini municipality amending its rules of order, which will give the speaker and committee chairpersons broad powers to close some meetings to the public and media.

“This is effectively a ban on the media. Council is trying to stop the public from accessing information in meetings that pertains to procurement and finance,” Ben Madokwe of the Active Citizens Movement told African News Agency (ANA).

Madokwe said that 20 civil society organisations had decided to band together to “demand accountability and scrutiny” from the metro, and that they would be challenging the amendment in court.

Representatives from Right2Know, SDCEA, Abahlali baseMjondolo and other groups joined Madokwe at city hall to hand out pamphlets to lunchtime traffic.

Right2Know explains why 20 civil society organisations have banded together to oppose the amendment. MEDIA: ANA Reporter

Central to the civil society groups’ fight is the restrictive measures it places on the media, such as forbidding the media from recording proceedings without the permission of the speaker.

READ MORE: Picket over eThekwini ‘gag’ order

The Rules of Order regulate procedures and conduct of meetings of the council and its committees.

The changes -- made in early December -- give the council broad powers to eject the public and media when discussing confidential or privileged information “regarding any person”, any investigation, report or internal audit which could be “compromised by its public disclosure” and; “any trade secrets” of either the city or a business it works with that relates to “financial, business, scientific or technical information”.

Madokwe said the amendments had been instituted to protect the interests of those working at the municipality who were taking part in corrupt practices, mismanagement and wasteful expenditure. 

But the city has said there is nothing in the amendment that is unconstitutional. 

“The City has proactively amended the Rules of Order Amendment By-law by specifying under what circumstances the meetings will be closed to the public,” mayor Zandile Gumede said in December.

She said the Rules of Order Amendment provides clarity on issues including the dissolution of the Council and under what circumstances meetings can be closed to the public.

African News Agency/ANA