The battle for Oudtshoorn

Andrew Donaldson says that things are not going well in the Ostrich Capital of the World

A NUMBER of Oudtshoorn councillors were this week reportedly held hostage in chambers for almost two hours by enraged members of the public after the council failed to approve the municipality’s budget for a third time in two months.

More importantly, one councillor was allegedly slapped in the drama. The councillor’s identity and the party he or she belonged to is, alas, not known –– such details are apparently no longer the remit of modern journalism –– but it is fair to suggest that a significant political line has been crossed here.

While we cannot condone violence, we do understand the frustrations of Oudtshoorn’s residents. The Little Karoo town, the “ostrich capital of the world”, is broken; the local water supply is polluted, its principal tourist attraction, the Cango Caves, is facing closure, and Eskom is going to cut off its electricity next month if the town doesn’t settle an unpaid bill of more than R7-million.

The council is dysfunctional, paralysed by bitter in-fighting and grubbing for control. In May 2013, the Democratic Alliance seized control after five ANC councillors voted with them in a motion of no confidence in the speaker, mayor and deputy mayor. 

In September, the courts ruled that the “takeover” was illegitimate, but by then by-elections had given the DA, now in a coalition with the Congress of the People, a majority in the council. Subsequent by-elections have also gone the DA’s way, and it is now the majority party in the council. The DA-Cope coalition has 13 seats, and the ANC-led coalition 12.

The latter, however, won’t relinquish power. It flatly refuses to accept the outcomes of these elections and, moreover, won’t call council meetings where duly processed motions of no confidence can be tabled so that a new mayor can be sworn in.

Western Cape DA leader Patricia de Lille has written to President Jacob Zuma to complain that Oudtshoorn’s ANC and ANC-aligned politicians have, among other things, also suspended councillors for no reason, used public money in litigation purely as a delaying tactic, allegedly tried to bribe councillors in exchange for votes, and have ignored court orders. Zuma, no slouch when it comes to ignoring the courts himself, has thus far apparently ignored De Lille’s letter. 

Last month, in an attempt to rid themselves of this mess, 20 Oudtshoorn councillors –– including the entire DA caucus and seven ANC members –– called for national government’s intervention and the adoption of a “Support and Good Governance” packaged proposed by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The council now also wants Western Cape Local Government MEC Anton Bredell to give it more time to review its budget before it’s approved.

All very well, you may say, but it does seem rather odd that more councillors weren’t given a good slapping in the fracas on Tuesday evening. Hopefully this had nothing to do with the supposed apathy of country folk and the single incident was considered a more than adequate indication of residents’ displeasure.

A slap, when properly administered, can be a most effective communications tool, particularly as its element of sharp rebuke is quite unequivocal. In his manual of social etiquette, The Unexpurgated Code, the Irish-American writer JP Donleavy recommends its use to “instantly shake the haughty nerve” from the demeanour of one’s detractors. The fleshier the jowls, the better.

But to other matters. It seems that Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has moved into the vacuum created by the departure of Pallo Jordan and has set himself up as the ruling party’s in-house intellectual. 

Consider, if you will, the deep thinking evident at his media briefing in Pretoria this week where he explained that the presidential compound at Nkandla may need even more security as the intense scrutiny of the upgrades there made the president more vulnerable.

“The challenge,” Nhleko was quoted as saying, “is now that we have gone this route, there has got to be re-evaluation . . . of the security circumstances around that homestead and the president himself. Now that you know that there is a thing PTZ [pan tilt zoom camera] and PIDS [perimeter intrusion detection system] and motion detectors and where they are located and so forth, if you want to do something [to the president], now you supposedly can.”

But Nhleko may have a point. The president could indeed be in great danger. The location of the cameras and the thingamajigs on the fence are no long secret. Ditto the “firepool”, tuck shop, chicken run and what have you. Plus, there’s a possible slapping epidemic in the offing.

Maybe we should just lock the president up. For his own safety, of course.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.