Squabbling leaves Plett council in disarray

10 July 2011 - 02:36 By BOBBY JORDAN
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The former ANC mayor of Plettenberg Bay, Lulama Mvimbi
The former ANC mayor of Plettenberg Bay, Lulama Mvimbi

Plettenberg Bay used to be the jewel of the Garden Route.

But the once peaceful holiday town is becoming a national embarrassment - torn apart by feuding members of the country's two major political parties.

Death threats, assaults, scuffles in council chambers, allegations of racism, fraud and corruption have turned local politics into a circus with mounting legal bills as councillors square off in court.

The Bitou council, which manages the town, had - until Friday - failed to sit through more than 30 minutes of official business since its inaugural meeting on June 1 after the DA wrested control from the ANC.

The Western Cape provincial government intervened this week, securing a high court interdict to stop former ANC mayor Lulama Mvimbi and other councillors from disrupting Friday's council meeting.

The meeting went ahead, but private security had to intervene when bus loads of people arrived and allegedly broke down the council doors.

The DA claims that Mvimbi has vowed to make the town ungovernable.

At the heart of the drama is the rivalry between the ANC and the DA, which each have six councillors.

A single Cope councillor, who sided with the DA, tipped the former ANC council into DA hands after the local government elections in May.

Bitter personal rivalry, built up over years, degenerated into chaos last week with an ugly spat between Mvimbi - who lost his R500000-a-year salary and BMW X5 in the council reshuffle - and newly elected DA speaker Johann Brummer.

Brummer, injured in a council scuffle earlier this year, asked police to remove Mvimbi from the chamber for disruptive behaviour. They refused and the meeting was abandoned.

Monday's council meeting degenerated into a squabble as members traded insults.

The ANC blames the fiasco on the DA and this week accused the party of "a national policy of not co-operating with the ANC".

Its regional spokesman, Putco Mapitiza, also accused Brummer of fuelling township unrest - and being behind an attack on Mvimbi in 2009.

"We are concerned at the black-on- black violence orchestrated by the DA in the township and Mr Brummer has been actively involved," said Mapitiza.

Brummer denied the allegations and said the ANC used the "race card" to deflect attention from their own failings.

Brummer drew attention to local government "anomalies" which he intended tackling when the council convened. They include:

  • Bitou's municipal law enforcement unit whose members wear khaki uniforms and enforce council by-laws. Brummer claimed the staff previously served as Mvimbi's private bodyguards;
  • Mvimbi's occupation of a council house after his demotion. But Bitou spokesman Thomas Nqolo said it was not a mayoral residence and he was entitled to stay on; and
  • A long list of court cases against council officials including a defamation case against Brummer and new mayor Memory Booysen.

Mvimbi declined to comment.

While the ANC said the interdict against Mvimbi was motivated by revenge, Brummer said legal action was the only option after weeks of disruption. "I had no option but to ban Mvimbi. It goes against the grain for me to have to do that.

"I have lived through 11 years of shocking abuse of power and undemocratic behaviour under the ANC in Plett and I certainly do not want to repeat their mistakes and abuses," he said.

Mapitiza disagreed: "Sorting the matter between the two councillors is impossible with Mr Brummer's historical hatred of any person associated with the ANC."

Western Cape Local Government Minister Anton Bredell, premier Helen Zille and provincial police commissioner Arno Lamoer met this week to discuss the crisis.

Last year the council spent more than R100000 of taxpayer money on legal bills related to internal squabbles.

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