Opposition councillors in the City of Johannesburg took the unusual step of walking out on the ANC on Thursday after being labelled racist. Meanwhile, the ruling party is considering restricting sensitive information from the public. All in all, then, a fairly typical day in South Africa. By GREG NICOLSON.
Councillors from opposition parties in the Joburg Council walked out in unison – a first in the history of the council – after the council’ chief whip refused to retract a statement calling the Democratic Alliance racist. A DA member was calling on the council to provide the best materials, rather than “Fong Kong” products, as it rolls out service delivery in the city.
Chief whip of council Prema Naidoo told Daily Maverick he regards the term as racist. “The DA speaker kept using the word ‘Fong Kong’ and I regarded that as a derogatory word and I said so… From my experience where people use the term ‘Fong Kong’, they are referring to a particular place.”
“I personally struggle to make the correlation,” said DA councillor and national spokesman Mmusi Maimane, who said Naidoo painted the opposition as a lot of racists. “He was describing an issue that wasn’t genuine.”
Maimane stood up and asked Naidoo who he was calling racist, then called on the speaker to have him withdraw his comments.
The speaker tried to calm the situation, but didn’t force Naidoo to retract his comments. The DA stuck to its threat and walked out of council. All opposition parties joined them in solidarity.
The opposition parties also united against a motion on the classification of sensitive information. The ANC proposes that during future tender and contract negotiations, the city must meet with lawyers and discuss how to handle sensitive and confidential information.
Naidoo denied that this amounted to withholding information.
Maimane, however, said it could hide corruption and keep sensitive information from the public. “The principle of the matter is that tomorrow we can decide which contracts are sensitive and which ones to put in the public space… The great news was, that is the first time that all the opposition parties agreed on one issue together.”
The history behind the motion on information, said Maimane, was Johannesburg’s Miss World contest. The DA continues to ask for financial details regarding costs and contracts that the city is yet to provide.
The city signed an agreement to host the 2009 Miss World pageant with the Johannesburg Tourism Company (JTC) at the same time budgets were being slashed. Reports suggested the JTC was insolvent and the city would be footing the bill for the event. Initial costs were put at R45 million, but are believed to have blown to R90 million.
The city has denied the municipal public accounts committee access to the controversial contract to host the beauty pageant, claiming confidentiality clauses prevent their release. The issue raised widespread concerns about accountability as the pageant coincided with large write-offs by the city in bad debt.
The DA argues that the motion will let the city to enter into contracts and, through including a confidentiality clause, prevent them from disclosing financial information to the public, creating a climate for mismanagement and corruption. The ANC claims there was no corruption regarding the Miss World contract and its resolution is to protect sensitive information.
The city plans to spend R100 billion on infrastructure over the next ten years, raising fears that without accountability, the money will go to waste. Arguably, it already is. Johannesburg was the only metro in the country to receive a qualified audit in the auditor general’s local government audit outcomes report. This means it’s likely to suffer from some of the worst attributes found across the country such as disregarding recommendations to improve the books, unqualified staff and a lack of consequences for poorly performing municipalities. DM
Despite claims that everything’s fine, the City of Johannesburg is regarded as a mess. It’s not easy to forget the billing crisis.
Yet with all those problems, the council’s opposition parties only united on an issue for the first time on Thursday. If past problems didn’t bring them together, imagine how bad the confidentiality motion must be.
Yet an alliance on a common issue will do little good. The ANC has a majority in Joburg. DM
- Joburg’s Miss World debacle in Mail & Guardian
Photo by Reuters