Gauteng MEC of Human Settlements and Cooperative Governance Lebogang Maile says his decision to rescind the suspensions of two DA councillors – former speakers of City of Johannesburg speaker Vasco da Gama and Tshwane’s Katlego Mathebe – was based on legal advice.
He then concluded that the matter should be handled by the respective councils.
Both councils are expected to give feedback to the MEC within seven days.
Maile said his decision should not be viewed as a defeat as he has received good feedback from his lawyers regarding his case against the councillors, despite the advice which prompted him to rescind the suspensions.
Maile was adamant that this was a move to strengthen the case and that he was “not embarrassed” by the backtracking.
He maintained that he was “still confident” that Mathebe and Da Gama would be held accountable.
“I know they [the DA] were celebrating, saying we are scared. No, we are not scared. We do not want to confuse issues because our strategic objective is to ensure that democracy prevails in Tswhane, service delivery is not affected and ensure that the municipality runs properly,” Maile said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
He insisted that Mathebe and Da Gama were in “gross violation of the law” because they breached their obligations in favour of political expediency.
“The merit and the correctness of our decision remains because our actions have been consistent with the Constitution and pertinent municipal legislation. That is why today we have given you [the media] the opportunity to interact and clarify,” he said.
Throughout this debacle, there have been allegations that the MEC was using his powers to fight political battles, which he slammed, saying that this was not possible under the watch of Gauteng Premier David Makhura.
“We would never abuse any powers given to us, so rest assured we are a democratic organisation,” he said.
Mathebe and Da Gama were suspended without pay by Maile last week, but on Monday the MEC made a U-turn.
At Thursday’s controversial briefing, Maile accused Da Gama of having been behind the collapse of a council meeting ahead of the voting process before the dramatic ousting of the DA-led government.
Mathebe was accused of sabotaging a council meeting in Tshwane by refusing to preside over it because one of its agenda items was her removal.
Maile gave both councillors the opportunity to respond but he said they “failed to address substantive issues” when relaying their version of events.
Maile admitted that it had been difficult handling the matter because of the inadequacies in the legislature rule book, which his legal team had been able to detect through the recent conflict in both councils.
He explained that he had realised that the rules regarding disciplining council members were not sufficient.
“There is a loophole in the law. The speaker is the custodian of council but the same law does not say what must happen when the speaker is in breach of the law,” he said.
In a statement on Monday, DA Gauteng provincial leader Mike Moriarty said Maile’s decision to reverse the suspensions vindicated the two DA councillors.
The DA is not taking the matter lying down. It announced plans to fight back.
While seeking legal advice, the party called on Makhura to fire Maile.
“Maile is a serial abuser of power who lacks even basic understanding of his role in overseeing local government,” Moriarty said.