Cops stop DA briefing on 'damning' fraud and corruption in Durban

05 February 2019 - 14:51 By Bongani Mthethwa
DA councillor Gavin Hegter outside Durban's city hall after being ordered by a metro policeman to move away during a DA press briefing. The party says it has every right to hold a media conference in a public building but claimed ANC mayor Zandile Gumede had personally stepped in to deny journalists access.
DA councillor Gavin Hegter outside Durban's city hall after being ordered by a metro policeman to move away during a DA press briefing. The party says it has every right to hold a media conference in a public building but claimed ANC mayor Zandile Gumede had personally stepped in to deny journalists access.
Image: Bongani Mthethwa

Drama unfolded at the Durban city hall on Tuesday when the DA was prevented from holding a press briefing on several "damning" reports on fraud and corruption conducted by the city's integrity and investigation unit. 

Just before the start of the media briefing at the DA's caucus room, party leaders were informed by city security managers they had received an instruction from the mayor's parlour that they were not allowed to hold their meeting there, and that if they continued they would be forcibly removed.

Despite frantic calls by DA eThekwini caucus leader Nicole Graham to a security manager and the city's head of security Dumisani Bhengu to resolve the impasse over the venue booking, security personnel would not budge and denied members of the media access to the city hall.

Durban metro police were also called in to physically remove DA members and journalists already inside the venue.

A visibly upset Graham, who was surrounded by other DA leaders, told journalists outside that the incident was  "concerning" as they had booked the venue for the press briefing.

"From the moment the media started arriving it was clear that there were complications when they were not allowed in. I met the security manager on the premises and he explained that there were some complications and the booking was made under the auspices of a DA caucus meeting and not a press briefing," she said.

"To me, it makes absolutely no difference. I am an executive committee councillor. This is my place of work and there are press briefings here all the time and meetings which the media is able to attend. We spoke to the secretariat in charge of booking venues. The matter was cleared and the media started to come up." 

Graham added that they had posted a councillor at the security door to identify the journalists who were coming to the briefing in order to allay any security concerns.

"But a few minutes later a gentleman called Lindani from security services seemed to have answered his phone and got involved. And from there the media were blocked from coming up.

"After communicating with the head of security management, Dumisani Bhengu, it was  clear there was no real reason for everyone being disallowed from coming into this building," she said.

"A number of metro police then arrived and we were threatened that we would be removed, which is frankly the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard. This is not Zandile Gumede’s private home. It is a public building where we're all entitled to work and  conduct ourselves.

"We were told that we must have this meeting at the DA offices. Quite frankly, this is a building where we should all be able to conduct our work as councillors and the media should not have to stand at the door and beg to be allowed into a public building that is paid for by the public purse for the public's benefit."

Graham said the leadership of the eThekwini municipality was "anxious" because the press briefing was going to reveal some "damning allegations about this municipality".

DA councillor Heinz de Boer accused the city of using apartheid-style tactics to suppress the opposition.

"They tried to use the security forces to basically put down [the] political opposition on a flimsy pretext that the room was not correctly booked. It smacks of the kind of governance that we have within eThekwini at the moment.

"I think the ANC will definitely accuse us of grandstanding here today but I think the public needs to know that the kind of irregular expenditure and the goings-on at city hall have a direct impact on what goes on and the service delivery that we receive within eThekwini," he said.

No officials were on hand to comment and the municipality did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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