KNYSNA NEWS - Dramatic details of the panic and pandemonium behind the scenes at the council meeting of 6 June 2018, in which councillor Eleanor Bouw-Spies was ousted as mayor and councillor Mark Willemse was voted into in her position, emerged at the DA disciplinary hearings against Peter Myers and Mark Willemse on 2 and 3 August at the Protea Hotel at Knysna Waterfront.
Fellow DA councillors Cathy Weidemann, Georlene Wolmarans and chief whip Levael Davis were called as witnesses, as well as local government minister Anton Bredell, and they spoke before the disciplinary panel consisting of Drakenstein mayoral committee member Koos le Roux as chair, Overstrand Speaker Anton Coetsee as the initiator (prosecutor), and Central Karoo District mayor Annelie Rabie and DA member of the National Assembly Derrick America.
First up was Weidemann. She nervously looked around at members of the public, media and other councillors before taking her seat. Formalities out the way, she spoke more freely after getting settled.
“The mayor (Bouw-Spies) was given an ultimatum: resign or… I don't know what else,” said Weidemann, speaking of the chaotic scenes that followed Willemse's unexpected revelation that he would be supporting a motion of no confidence in Bouw-Spies. It happened just minutes before the vote.
“The mayor made a phone call to leadership, and thereafter offered to resign that Friday, but Peter refused. He started to scream at the mayor, saying that she's a liar and always lies. He wanted a guarantee.” Weidemann shook her head, looked down, and took a deep breath. She said as DA members, they tried to salvage the situation, and a heated discussion ensued.
'It came as a shock'
“We decided on that morning before the council meeting that we would not support the motion, so this came as a shock to us. We were not prepared. I went to Mark and told him, 'Do you realise what you are doing? You are putting your job in George (Eden District Municipality) at risk'."
Questioned to elaborate on what she meant by Willemse losing his job, she answered, “I don't know, I was just speaking my mind,” and shrugged her shoulders.
Weidemann had earlier confirmed that Myers did not attend caucus meetings held with coalition partners, such as when councillor Velile Waxa was present.
“How then would I know what decision was made by the caucus if I don't attend meetings? ” he asked Weidemann.
She glared back and said matter-of-factly: “Peter, you know everything, you always know everything that's going on.”
Enter the second witness, councillor Wolmarans. As Speaker of the Knysna council, she did not attend the informal meeting just before the motion came up on the agenda.
'I was dumbstruck'
“I received a WhatsApp on my phone from Jaco Londt (DA regional chair), asking me to postpone the meeting,” she said, admitting that by this time she also knew what was going about to happen. “I was so dumbstruck I didn't do anything. I did not take the instruction,” she said.
Davis said that when DA members walked back to their seats after failing to convince Willemse and Myers to abstain from supporting the ANC motion, they felt totally helpless. “Our wind was knocked out – we walked in distraught, we wanted them to spare her (Bouw-Spies') dignity. The ANC was laughing at us. It was degrading.”
Bredell, who said he often deals with situations at local government level all over the province, confirmed that he spoke to Myers and Willemse moments before the vote took place.
“Mark confirmed that he was to vote with the ANC. I said to them that Eleanor was willing to resign. I made a plea, 'Please don't do this',” said Bredell.
Moments after that phone call it was over, and the mayor was ousted. DA members walked out and didn't even participate in the vote – and among the arguments at the hearing was whether this was prearranged or not.
“The problem is that Mark was selected by the ANC,” said Bredell.
Then there was a second phone call, this time from Myers and Willemse asking Bredell how to handle this now that the mayor has been ousted.
“I said to Peter, 'It can't be you',” Bredell said, amid a light-hearted moment in reference to pending disciplinary hearings against former deputy mayor Myers.
And that's how, in less than an hour, Willemse became the new mayor of Knysna.
During the hearing Myers appeared frustrated at times, particularly when "leading evidence" as the prosecution called it. He became increasingly agitated at being interrupted, and on several occasions asked the chairperson to "admonish the learned colleague".
In his closing statement Myers said, “At the time of the vote, there was no expectation of personal gain. We called leadership a second time and would have followed instructions. There is no good evidence that the party was brought into disrepute as a result of our actions.”
Myers added that he was excluded from caucuses and decisions were kept a secret from him.
Willemse concluded his argument to the panel that irrespective of the caucus decision, "we voted with our conscience", and that the people of Knysna need good and clean governance, and he acted with the community's, and the DA's, best interests at heart.
The DA disciplinary panel found Willemse and Myers guilty of misconduct in that they voted against a caucus decision. The panel's recommended sentences to the DA's provincial executive committee are that both councillors' DA membership be terminated if certain provisions are not followed.
Mayor Mark Willemse: DA membership is terminated immediately, however, the sentence is suspended provided that:
- He removes Myers from the mayoral committee within 10 days of acceptance of the recommendation by the provincial executive committee;
- All media releases be approved beforehand by the provincial executive committee; and
- He agrees to go through the DA's formal mayoral selection process, and if he is not selected, he immediately resigns as mayor.
Councillor Peter Myers: DA membership is terminated immediately, however, the sentence is suspended provided that:
- He henceforth attends all caucus meetings;
- He resigns from the mayoral committee within 10 days of acceptance of the panel's recommendation by the provincial executive committee; and
- He diligently adheres to the DA's social media policy.
Violation of any of conditions 1, 2 or 3 lifts the suspension of the sentence and termination as DA members takes immediate effect.
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