Joburg to elect new council speaker to replace axed Colleen Makhubele

20 November 2023 - 11:29
By Sisanda Mbolekwa
The DA has raised concern about the waste of ratepayers' money to call the council sitting while there is an ordinary council sitting scheduled for one week’s time, and has vowed to boycott the meeting. File photo.
Image: Alaister Russell The DA has raised concern about the waste of ratepayers' money to call the council sitting while there is an ordinary council sitting scheduled for one week’s time, and has vowed to boycott the meeting. File photo.

The City of Johannesburg council is sitting on Monday morning to elect a new speaker of council after a turbulent week with the abrupt termination of former speaker Colleen Makhubele’s membership by her party, COPE, due to her involvement in a new alliance.

Makhubele stunned her party leadership when her name and face appeared on South African Rainbow Alliance (Sara) posters, an amalgamation of smaller parties that seek to jointly contest next year’s general elections.

According to the posters that emerged last weekend, Makhubele will be the alliance’s presidential candidate.

COPE national chair Teboho Loate has distanced the party from Sara and subsequently read the riot act to Makhubele, which resulted in her axing. By taking membership of another organisation, Makhubele effectively terminated her COPE membership, as having dual membership is a breach of the party’s constitution.

“We don’t know what this Sara is, we have never participated in any of the discussions formally, nor have we authorised her involvement,” said Loate.

“They are saying Sara is going to be the umbrella of all smaller parties, and COPE would not contest elections as an independent party. How do we explain this to supporters and ordinary members of COPE — that when they get to the ballot they must not vote COPE but must look for this Sara, which is something else?”

Despite her party cutting ties with her, Makhubele maintained that she was not in the wrong. The former speaker said she had been betrayed by her once-trusted ally COPE president Mosiuoa Lekota and lamented the manner in which the news of her firing was delivered to her.

However, Loate dismissed any corridor conversations as having a bearing on the direction COPE was to take officially ahead of 2024.

“There’s something that she does not understand. Whatever any member or official of the party does outside the party mandate is personal and is without authorisation. It cannot be that because they have met with the president or anybody that they try to make things official.

“This thing of Sara has never been presented to the party officially. We are dealing with a member that never understood the organisation’s constitution.

“She’s named there as the president of that thing. She’s appearing on posters as the leader of Sara. She’s saying that we terminated her membership because we are threatened of women leadership. What nonsense is that?

“This has got nothing to do with gender, it's about her transgressing the constitution of the party. If she wants to appeal her termination, she has an opportunity to do so and the congress national committee will appoint an independent panel to review the decision. But her going public and rubbishing everyone is not helping her case.”

Makhubele has said she will not be appealing her dismissal.

COPE in the province is expected to propose three names to the central executive committee and the national structure is to deliberate on the candidates and select one to fill Makhubele’s void.

In the midst of the tension between Makhubele and her erstwhile party and the scramble to replace her in council, the governing ANC, EFF and Patriotic Alliance-led coalition in Joburg is ready to fill the speaker of council position.

ANC regional secretary Sasabona Manganye said the minority parties in their coalition have resolved on former MMC and current minority party bloc leader Margaret Arnolds to replace Makhubele.

“Makhubele’s party will send another councillor, there is no vacuum. We have not lost COPE as a party in our coalition. We hope they will have filled the vacancy in time for the election of the new speaker — but even if it is not done on time, the numbers we have are enough to deliver the new speaker.

Our position remains clear: the Johannesburg council must be dissolved and we will not give legitimacy to the doomsday coalition while they are being frivolous with the taxpayers' money
Belinda Echeozonjoku, DA caucus leader

“She has received the backing of all parties in the coalition, she is supported. The position of speaker is allocated to the minority bloc. They are the same people who recommended COPE councillor Colleen Makhubele. Now that she is out, they have the liberty of deciding on another name among them, and they have resolved on Arnolds.”

The regional secretary told TimesLIVE that Arnolds was not new to leadership and believed she would represent the coalition well.

“We have no doubt that she will perform and excel at the position of speaker. She has been very consistent, having been at the centre of leading and uniting the minority parties since 2016. She has played that critical role and we are confident that because she did well as an MMC, she will do well as a speaker. Our support for her candidature is very clear and we trust that she will work for the people of Johannesburg.”

The African Independent Congress’ (AIC) Arnolds expressed her eagerness for the possible new role, saying this would demonstrate her party’s readiness to govern.

“Occupying the position of speaker in council would demonstrate that the AIC is able to govern and that we have credible people. Despite being a small party, we are a party with influence. We have been leading the minority party block since inception, rallying the smaller parties together was my brainchild,” she said.

“As a speaker, I would want to have the confidence of every councillor in the city and not be biased to one lot of councillors. I would want to ensure that council is run smoothly and that the 6-million residents of Johannesburg have services delivered to them.”

The speaker hopeful lambasted the DA’s call for the dissolution of council and call for fresh elections, saying it is not genuine.

“They do not have two-thirds of the council vote so they cannot make that call. The call is not even justified. If they can account for what they have done when they had power and were in government, then maybe they could have the grounds to make such a call. But they have done nothing for Joburg, they’ve just serviced the leafy suburbs in the north and neglected everyone else.

“That is what I would like to change. I would like to see the ratepayers as well as the people in the squatter camps and everyone else get services. I would also like to see strengthened oversight of executive by the legislature.”

The official opposition party in council announced a boycott of the special council meeting, saying it is a waste of ratepayer and taxpayer money.

DA caucus leader Belinda Echeozonjoku said her party would not be complicit in such a waste of money and will therefore not be attending the meeting.

“Our position remains clear: the Johannesburg council must be dissolved and we will not give legitimacy to the doomsday coalition while they are being frivolous with taxpayers' money,” she said.

“This, while we are waiting for the city manager's appeal to be heard on November 22. Residents of Johannesburg are already paying for the city’s appeal on the ruling on the city manager.”

This follows a court ruling that declared Floyd Brink's appointment as irregular and unlawful, which he is subsequently appealing.

Echeozonjoku criticised that ratepayers must pay for an extraordinary meeting that can cost up to R600,000 while there is an ordinary council sitting scheduled for November 29 and 30 — in one week’s time.

There is no reason the speaker's election should not take place the morning of that meeting. In a cash-strapped metro, spending R600,000 is no laughing matter. We have been clear: the revolving door of mayors and speakers will not change Johannesburg’s dire situation. Both the executive and legislative arms of the council have failed the residents of Johannesburg — the only solution is the dissolution of the council.”