Maverick Citizen

Maverick Citizen

Activists in Makana municipality case fear for their lives

Makana is a city in the Eastern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa and is the seat of the Makana municipality.

A number of activists who were involved in the court case that led to a landmark ruling by the Makhanda High Court have received threats, and a former president of the Unemployed People’s Movement had to leave town after he was warned to ‘be very careful’. 

As the Unemployed People’s Movement was celebrating its victory in its drawn-out battle to get the Makana municipality dissolved for failing to provide services to its residents, the messages started coming through. 

“There were messages from everywhere. They all said the same thing: Be careful. Be very careful. Be careful. Be careful,” a former president of the organisation, Ayanda Kota, said. 

“You could actually feel how anxious those in power were.  

“There is a long history in the Eastern Cape of what happens to people who go against their municipality. It happened in Buffalo City. There were threats in Nelson Mandela Bay. It happened in the Amatole Municipality.”

Kota has since left town with his family, while his fellow activists are “making plans to stay safe”. 

Kota said another former president of the organisation, who died just before the judgment by Judge Igna Stretch refusing Premier Oscar Mabuyane and the Makana Municipality leave to appeal against her ruling, were threatened several times for “talking too much. They even told her that they will cut off her breasts.”  

“People in our province are being killed for things like what we have done,” he said. “Each and every one of us have been threatened. We are making plans to stay safe.”  

In January this year following an application by the Unemployed People’s Movement, Judge Igna Stretch sitting in the Makhanda High Court declared that the council of the Makana Municipality must be dissolved for its unconstitutional failure to provide services to its residents. 

In papers before the court, numerous examples of how the council failed residents were cited. These included failing to address ongoing sewage spills, failure to provide proper waste removal services, failure to plan effectively for the drought and failing to secure the town’s water supply and quality, ongoing air pollution caused by the incineration of waste at the municipal landfill, and failure to pay Eskom, leading to threats that the town’s power would be cut off. 

Other issues highlighted in the court papers included the municipality’s inability to maintain road infrastructure, failure to regulate livestock in town, and allowing fire-fighting equipment to fall into disrepair and not restocking.

In June 2019, the municipality was ordered by the high court to begin paying R44-million in arrears to Eskom after the power utility threatened to cut off its supply. 

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape Cabinet at the weekend explained its reasons for deciding to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal to allow them to appeal a decision by the Makhanda High Court ordering that the Makana Municipality must be dissolved. 

Stretch said there was no reasonable prospect that the appeals of the provincial and the local government would succeed. She said that while she was aware that the ruling was likely to set a precedent for the dissolution of municipalities across the country, she had ruled on the specific set of facts placed before her relating to the Makana Municipality. 

This, she continued, included a “paucity of evidence in response to the serious allegations [of service delivery failures]” that mounted over at least five years and the municipality’s long history of non-compliance with any recovery plans. “[They] blatantly ignored solutions,” she said. 

“Makana’s situation and the way it has been handled thus far is so embarrassing on so many different levels that had national government intervention been called for, this court would have been constrained to have given serious consideration to granting such relief.” 

Kota said they tried to settle the matter with the Eastern Cape government until right before the court heard the application: 

“We instructed our attorneys to see if we cannot find an out-of-court settlement; they told us the Eastern Cape premier wants to go to court.” 

Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape Cabinet at the weekend explained its reasons for deciding to petition the Supreme Court of Appeal to allow them to appeal a decision by the Makhanda High Court ordering that the Makana Municipality must be dissolved. 

“The Eastern Cape High Court has refused the Provincial and Municipal Respondents’ application for leave to appeal this matter. This matter had its genesis in the deterioration of municipal governance and service delivery in Makana Municipality long before the new Provincial Executive Council took up office and the judgment is considered flawed in very important and substantive respects,” a statement released by the Cabinet read. 

According to the statement, a financial recovery plan for the Makana municipality was drawn up soon after the 2019 elections. 

The court also expects the provincial executive to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the Constitution, said the statement. 

“In these respects the Court has given itself powers which it does not have in terms of the Constitution and its judgment militates against the doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial,” the statement reads. 

“If this judgment is allowed to stand, it may well become a precedent capable of causing endless disruption in the provincial executive’s earnest efforts, in cooperation with the national government, to assist struggling Eastern Cape municipalities to the best of its ability.” 

Mabuyane’s spokesperson, Mvusi Sicwetsha, did not respond to a request for comment on the threats against the activists. 

The Makhanda High Court is expected to hear a similar application to dissolve the Enoch Mgijima Municipality, based in Komani/Queenstown, later this month. Several organisations in Cala have also given Mabuyane until later this month to respond to their demands before approaching the court to dissolve the Sakhisizwe Municipality (Elliot and Cala). DM/MC

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