By Libuseng Nyaka
QWAQWA – The Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality council sitting on Monday degenerated into total pandemonium as police stormed in an attempt to arrest councillors, forcing postponement of the sitting.This led to the trio of Council Whip Moeketsi Lebesa, Speaker Paratlane Motloung and Executive Mayor Gilbert Mokotso escaping a vote of no confidence by a whisker.
The council’s business, which had not yet started was disrupted when a group of police officers stormed into a council sitting with a view to arresting ANC councillors – Chief Whip Mandlankosi Dhlamini, Tumelo Thebe and Bafana Hlubi – accusing them of stealing an excavator belonging to the municipality.
Some of the councillors left their seats and flung themselves at the police to stop them from proceeding to the area where the concerned councillors were seated. ANC supporters who have come in numbers started also singing and shouting from the public gallery.
‘The council must continue, motion must be debated and voted on,” voices shouted from the direction where the ANC supporters sat, as they all scuttled towards the police.
This started after Motloung had announced that police officers were waiting outside to arrest some of the councillors.
The council had to be adjourned after it was delayed for about 80 minutes.
The police were prevented from arresting the councillor after they had failed to produce a warrant of arrest. Apart from that, it is illegal to arrest councillors during council sitting.
This disruption of the council by members of the police was viewed by different political parties as nothing but a ploy by Speaker to escape a vote of no confidence against him, the Council Whip and the Executive Mayor.
Moeketsi, the leader of Dikwanwetla Party of South Africa who is the Council Whip in the Map-16 led coalition government, lambasted Motloung for breaking the law.
“The way the council has adjourned was unlawful. When police arrived to arrest a councillor, the Speaker as the custodian of law, failed to ask them for a warrant of arrest because he was in a hurry to see the councillors arrested. This was nothing but political game which he allowed to play out. He is wrong. He allowed police to enter the council to arrest councillors on a case based of hearsay. Councillors are protected by law and the Speaker has handled this matter in a stupid way.”
Lebesa added that if the motion had proceeded, they would have lost their current positions in the council as numbers were against the Speaker and the Executive Mayor.
Echoing Lebesa’s sentiments, ANC leader Dhlamini who was among those earmarked to be arrested, said allowing police to arrest them while in a council sitting was a way of eliminating the threat.
“This did not come as a surprise; we had known earlier that police would come and arrest us here. This is a desperate attempt to prevent the motion of no confidence from proceeding because I and councillor Tumelo Thebe were supposed to table those motions. We will, however, cooperate with police but they cannot come and arrest us in the council where we are protected by law to be here.”
The Chairperson of the Municipal Public Accounts Committee, who is also the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighterse Chikota Mkhwanazi, said it is unlawful to allow police to arrest councillors especially in the council where they are protected by the law.
“If we allow this, next time it will happen to us. Even if they have a case to answer, police are not allowed to enter into a council sitting and arrest anyone; today they were playing politics.”
But DA’s Alison Oates said her party will not participate in the vote of no confidence. However, it will continue to play a vigorous and impartial oversight of governance in the council.
“Council was supposed to approve very important issues today. Treasury is releasing equitable share grants that were going to be used to pay workers.
“In our opinion, Map16 is making a massive mess of running the municipality. The ANC made a mess for decades, too.”
Responding to the accusations against him, Paratlane said he has no right to refuse police from arresting councillors.
“To ensure that I am not on the wrong side of the law, when police request me as speaker to allow them to have certain councillors, I have no right to prevent them from doing their work.”
Meanwhile, Mokotso has confirmed that the municipal excavator was stolen and sold but has since been recovered.