KNYSNA NEWS - The dust of the national and provincial elections had barely settled as tensions boiled over within Knysna's halls of power.
This week Mark Willemse's head was placed on the chopping block by his own party for the second time in his turbulent term through a motion of no confidence.
The motion launched via a letter by DA mayor-elect Michelle Wasserman and signed by seven local DA councillors, asked for his resignation and will be voted on today. It contains what many believe to be scathing attacks on Willemse including that he is being remote-controlled by councillor, Peter Myers, and is neglecting the needs of the community.
In the letter – signed by Michelle Wasserman and DA councillors Donovan Pofadder, Levael Davis, Georlene Wolmarans, Sibusiso Kwinana, Luzuko Tyokolo and Cathy Weideman – Willemse is asked to resign for a number of reasons, one of which echoes that of the first motion of no confidence against Willemse – accepting the position as mayor despite not being "properly approved to do so" by the DA.
This claim is vehemently refuted by both Willemse and Myers as well as members of the Knysna Ratepayers Association (KRA).
In hot water
Willemse was elected as mayor after he and Myers supported an ANC-led vote of no confidence in former Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies. He landed in hot water with the DA over his support of the motion – a move he had labelled voting with his conscience instead of toeing the party line. He was charged with violating a clause in the DA constitution, which states that a public representative may not vote in a way that does not comply with how the caucus agreed to vote.
In a surprise move, the DA members left chambers without casting their vote, leaving the ANC in a position to take power. But in an equally surprising move, the ANC did not utilise the opportunity to turn the tables on the DA and seemed content with simply seeing the last of Bouw-Spies.
The event created a unique situation in that never before had Knysna seen a DA mayor elected by ANC caucus members, hounded by his own party to resign.
Accused of not showing leadership
In the letter, Willemse is also accused by the councillors of not making "any effort to use the DA manifesto as a basis for prioritisation and planning". "You have not shown political leadership and are not providing strategic direction to the administration," Wasserman's letter states.
The councillors also said that Willemse has lost credibility among councillors, officials and members of the public who "perceive you as being unable to make your own decisions". They further said Willemse is being "remote controlled" by Myers – the only DA councillor whose name does not appear on the letter. Willemse and Myers both deny that this is the case.
"You do not take the concerns and advice of members of the caucus (other than Peter Myers) seriously and have repeatedly either neglected to bring matters to the caucus or ignored the needs of the community that are brought to the table by us," the letter states.
Willemse, who confirmed receipt of the letter, said he has taken the matter up with the DA federal executive council, who have shared the same sentiments as his fellow Knysna DA councillors.
He further said the move is "ludicrous" and would only cause instability in Knysna. He remains adamant that his decision to support the motion against Bouw-Spies was motivated by putting his constituents first and rooting out corruption in the town. "Being mayor is not about politics, but putting the people of this town first. When I became mayor, my task was to turn Knysna around and we have come a long way in doing just that," Willemse said.
Despite the efforts to get rid of Willemse, he has seen support from the community, which has led to plans to stage a march in his support today as well as a petition for the same reason.
Some have labelled the move an attempt by the provincial structures of the DA to interfere in Knysna governance.
"This is clearly not a purely organic motion. These councillors are obviously doing their masters' bidding, and DA party bosses in Cape Town are again interfering in Knysna's governance," the KRA said.
It further said the motive is that Willemse was voted in by a coalition of the ANC, a minority of DA councillors, and independent councillors to replace former Bouw-Spies. "Some party bosses have never forgiven Willemse for putting the interests of the town and its residents ahead of party loyalty," the association said.
It added that the motion was lodged by Wasserman and seconded by Davis. "As far as the councillors' stated motivation is concerned, the motion simply says, 'The executive mayor has not in the view of council performed his duties satisfactorily'."
'Wasserman to benefit'
The KRA further said Wasserman's motivation is likely "either a masterpiece of brevity and concision, or no motivation". "In the unlikely event that the motion carries, and in the even less likely event that the DA caucus can muster the votes from the entire council to elect a new mayor, the fortunate beneficiary is likely to be none other than the DA's Wasserman, the author of the motion to remove Willemse.
"Ironically, Wasserman was not elected to this council but was parachuted in to replace Willemse almost a year ago, if the DA could force him out as mayor. Although she was elected Ward 9 councillor in 2011, she left her ward in the lurch when she resigned in 2015, opening the door to current Ward 9 councillor (and mayor) Willemse, who had to pick up the pieces, and has since proved his mettle," the KRA said.
'Councillors' personal decision'
Wasserman said the decision to request Willemse to resign and submit the motion against him was made by the seven of them personally and was not the result of any instruction from the leadership of the DA.
"We have, in terms of the DA's federal constitution, requested that the DA's federal executive approve our motion of no confidence and we await its response. There is an argument circulating on social media that Willemse followed his voters' mandate when he voted with the ANC to oust DA Bouw-Spies and accept the position of executive mayor. This argument is manifestly unsound. How was this mandate given when hardly any of the residents of his ward were aware of what was happening until after it had happened?" she said.
'We question what Willemse has done'
She added that they have seen the petition initiated by local residents against their motion, which states that "after many years of neglecting our Knysna town, Willemse got things going again". "We question what Willemse has done to 'get things going again'. The projects which are currently rolling out, for example the Charlesford Scheme and the Knysna CBD upgrade, were initiated prior to Willemse's tenure," she said.
"Seven out of the nine DA councillors decided that we cannot allow this situation to continue. We anticipate that Willemse and Myers will join hands with the party that voted them into power and this will mean Knysna Municipality may soon be governed by the ANC. But the truth of the matter, if you look at the facts, is that Knysna Municipality has not been governed by the DA since 6 June 2018," Wasserman concluded.
Despite efforts to obtain input from the DA federal executive, it was not forthcoming before going to print.
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