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KNYSNA NEWS & VIDEO – It has been a tumultuous week for the town of Knysna, with 7 June fire commemorations, a taxi march that brought the town to a standstill, and most important of all the mayoral shake-up that ended in a new mayor being elected after a motion of no confidence succeeded in ousting then mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies.
In an unprecedented political move, the Knysna ANC – who brought the motion on 30 May for the first time, but which was not placed on the agenda by Speaker Georlene Wolmarans until 6 June – voted in DA councillor and then Speaker of Eden District Municipality (Eden DM) Mark Willemse as the new mayor.
Willemse resigned as Eden DM Speaker with immediate effect on Monday 11 June, but retains his position as the Knysna council representative at the district municipality.
What transpired in the Knysna Municipality on Wednesday 6 June had barely had time to settle in the minds of residents in town, when the ramifications started being felt province-wide.
The DA’s Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela expressed his displeasure with what happened by the following day, and on Friday 8 June, along with the party’s regional chairman Jaco Londt, paid a visit Knysna to meet with the party caucus.
Michelle Pienaar of the George Herald reports that Madikizela displeasure was with the way the motion was handled; not informing the party about their plans; and the fact that Willemse accepted a second executive position as mayor while he was the Eden Speaker. “Voting with your conscience becomes questionable if you are the direct beneficiary, which is the case here,” said Madikizela.
Listen to a voice recording below:
With the news of Madikizela’s visit spreading fast, and rumours that he had instructed Willemse to step down immediately or face the consequences, activists in Knysna launched a petition to stop Madikizela’s instruction.
“We are petitioning the mayor from resigning under political interference,” read the petition.
At the time of this article going to print, the petition – which is being circulated on social media – had 796 signatures supporting it.
Journalist Nwabisa Pondoyi reported that supporters of Willemse gathered outside Knysna Municipality that afternoon and later marched to Oaks on Main where DA councillors were meeting with their leadership, chanting songs of liberation. Although peaceful, police and law enforcement officials were called in to maintain order.
Mayhem in meeting
During the meeting itself (on 6 June), the ANC would not allow any point on the agenda to be heard until their motion served first. Many of the ANC councillors protested continuously, at times disrupting the meeting completely, arguing that the meeting could not continue while the current mayor who had let down the town was still in control –a mayor in which no councillor or resident had confidence in anymore, they said.
An all-inclusive party caucus called by Speaker Wolmarans to restore some modicum of order in the meeting had reached a deadlock, she said, and the meeting continued as per the agenda on her instructions. This brought about outrage from both the ANC and the packed gallery of residents.
The conclusion of the chaotic special council meeting was an approved 2018/2019 budget and IDP, the appointment of new acting director of technical services Rhoydon Parry, and finally the ousting of Bouw-Spies as mayor.
Watch a video below:
Out with the old, in with the new
The motion of no confidence against her was brought by the ANC, supported by both Cope and the Knysna Unity Congress (KUC).
Willemse was unanimously voted in as the new executive mayor of Knysna, with Cope member Ricky van Aswegen as his deputy – a position that has been vacant since October last year when Peter Myers of the DA was ousted. This finally took place at around 20:00 that evening.
Bouw-Spies and the rest of the DA, excluding Willemse and Myers, walked out of the meeting along with an ACDP and independent councillor right before the motion of no confidence was set to serve in council, and directly after an exceptionally long party caucus.
DA walkout ‘irresponsible’
“The walkout was not only childish, but immensely irresponsible,” commented Knysna activist Susan Campbell on Friday 8 June. “It left the door wide open for the ANC to take over the council there and then. The fact that they didn’t is a clear indication of the prevalent desperation to get rid of Bouw-Spies. The priority was evidently to depose the mayor over an opportunity for political gain.
In a press statement made after the meeting by ANC chief whip Titi Gombo, the ANC called the “marathon” meeting “a fiasco”.
‘DA incapable to lead’
“It clearly demonstrates the DA’s inability to govern. We had on numerous occasions reported that the Knysna DA-led coalition is incapable of serving the plight of the community of Knysna. The ANC once again demonstrated that we are not interested in cheap politicking to the detriment of service delivery. The ANC motion to remove Bouw-Spies suggests that as the opposition party we cannot watch while the mayor fails to provide leadership…
“We were further vindicated as it transpired during debate on the budget that the former executive mayor has not informed the MEC of finance, Ivan Meyer, of the noncompliance to pass the budget 30 days before the start of the financial year as required by the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).
“A letter from the MEC of finance, dated 6 June 2018 was read in which Mr Myers indicated that he was not informed by any correspondence from Knysna Municipality of the noncompliance. The executive mayor and municipal manager instead read a letter that was written to MEC of local government. It is clear that this action again intended to mislead council,” the statement said.
No ‘Frankenstein coalition’
In an interview with Knysna-Plett Herald on Sunday 10 June, Willemse denied rumours of a “Frankenstein coalition” between himself, Peter Myers, the ANC, Cope and the KUC, adding that he was astounded by their actions voting him in as mayor. He said he was still a loyal DA member who believed in and upheld the values the party stood for.
“I have just of late seen that the DA leadership in town is not what it should be, and I cannot stand on my good conscience and agree with the way things are being done at this moment. And that is what I did… I stood up against the bad leadership… which is detrimental to our town. I could no longer keep quiet,” he said. He added that as a resident of Knysna he was not happy with what he was seeing.
Aim to bring town together
He said his directive as mayor was to firstly bring the town together and get residents to understand what challenges the town is facing. “We need to get the lines of communication open to convey that we have huge challenges… We also have the money, but we need to spend it correctly, be open and transparent,” said Willemse, adding that he wanted to show the people of Knysna that there are good things happening within the town.
Willemse said his first order of business would be to get the administration itself to understand what is going on in the town. “It’s important that the administration understand there is a change, and to get them working in a very positive way. Without your administration, service delivery goes down the drain.”
ARTICLE: NWABISA PONDOYI (KNYSNA–PLETT HERALD), MICHELLE PIENAAR (GEORGE HERALD)
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