Saga of DA councillors drags on

DA councillors Trevor Louw, left, and Neville Higgins arrived for the Nelson Mandela Bay special council meeting on Thursday despite a court ruling that they are no longer councillors. They are planning to appeal the decision
DA councillors Trevor Louw, left, and Neville Higgins arrived for the Nelson Mandela Bay special council meeting on Thursday despite a court ruling that they are no longer councillors. They are planning to appeal the decision
Image: WERNER HILLS

Councillors spent more than 40 minutes debating whether or not Nelson Mandela Bay DA councillors Neville Higgins and Trevor Louw should be allowed in the chamber as councillors.

The Port Elizabeth High Court declared in December that the two are no longer councillors.

Higgins and Louw have, however, applied for leave to appeal against the decision.

At the council meeting on Thursday, the DA argued that the councillors’ attendance of the special sitting would put the municipality at risk because the meeting was to deal with matters of compliance.

Councillors were to deliberate on the city’s annual report.

DA councillor Retief Odendaal said: “This is a special council meeting to deal with matters that deal with compliance issues.

“We will never hold the people of the city at ransom.

“The fact remains there are vacancies that have been declared.

“The IEC has not withdrawn the vacancies as the highest decision-making body when it comes to our positions,” Odendaal said.

He said allowing the two councillors to attend meant the council was ignoring the ongoing by-election campaigning for wards 35 and 37.

“[They] are no longer councillors and them being here is compromising this council.”

IEC regional supervisor Crosby Bacela has said the electoral commission had not retracted the vacancies.

“We received a declaration from the acting municipal manager and a court order telling us to proceed with the by-election.

“The court has not told us not to proceed with the byelection,” Bacela said.

Meanwhile, DA councillor Morne Steyn said the court judgment was still valid.

“The IEC has not withdrawn the vacancies in the wards, no interdict has been brought. The judgment stands.

“Those people are not councillors and if we proceed we will put every decision we make here at risk of being unlawful,” Steyn said.

ANC councillor Makhi Feni said Higgins and Louw had the right to appeal against the judgment.

“There are constitutional rights of individuals and they must be respected. There is a constitutional right of the individuals to appeal and challenge that decision,” Feni said.

“The issue here is that those who are challenging the appeal must do so in court. We are not the court of law.

“There’s an appeal by these two councillors, which means the judgment is not effective until the appeal,” Feni said.

Stand-in acting city manager Mbuzeli Nogqala said he had received a legal opinion on the matter.

“I’m advised that councillors remain councillors until their appeal has been heard and decided,” Nogqala said.

The legal opinion, which did not have a signatory or letterhead, was a summary of advice from two law firms, which he had drawn up, Nogqala said.

ANC councillor Andile Lungisa advised the DA to walk to the Port Elizabeth High Court to argue the matter there.

“To our colleagues from the DA with the two councillors . . . there is a court not very far [away]. They can walk over there and thrash [out] this matter there,” Lungisa said.

“Steyn speaks good English with no substance. That’s the unfortunate part. [He] is failing. The application has been heard and will be heard in the Grahamstown High Court.

“The procedure is very simple, the status quo remains – the councillors are still councillors,” Lungisa said.

Approached for comment, Louw said the DA’s sentiments towards him saddened him.

“It’s sad that the party I have loved for so long feels this way, but we are waiting for our day in court. The process that the DA followed was illegal.

“If the speaker rules that we should not be here, then we will leave because we are not going to hold the people of this city to ransom,” Louw said.

Higgins declined to comment.

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