BY-ELECTIONS: SUPER WEDNESDAY

Knysna candidates square up for key tussle

By Suné Payne 5 November 2020

(Illustrative image | sources: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

In the tourist town of Knysna, two vital wards that were run by the DA are up for grabs in the by-elections on 11 November. Two candidates, familiar with the issues in the municipality, are standing as independents and have pledged to kickstart service delivery in an area that has been marred by council and political party infighting.

Suné Payne

This is Part One of a series on Knysna and surrounds. See Part Two here and Part Three here. 

On Wednesday, 11 November there will be 107 by-elections countrywide, with two in the coastal town of Knysna on the Garden Route. In both these former DA-led wards, two prominent candidates say they want to get the municipality back on track. 

Daily Maverick visited Knysna, on the Garden Route of the Western Cape, to speak to two candidates who are contesting the by-elections in two wards. One seat became vacant after the termination of the mayor’s DA membership, and in the other, the DA councillor resigned. 

Knysna is a key area for the DA – former Western Cape premier Helen Zille was the area’s political head after the 2019 elections and current premier Alan Winde is from the town. Current DA federal chairperson of finance, Dr Dion George, is the DA’s constituency head for Knysna. 

Ward 9 became available when the DA fired Knysna mayor Mark Willemse in September 2019, which left his ward without a councillor and the town without a mayor. In May 2020, in a dramatic council sitting, where the municipal manager and chief financial officer resigned, Ward 10 councillor Peter Myers quit the DA, leaving another seat vacant. Myers described his political party as one “that has, in my view, lost its moral compass and legitimacy to govern”, according to the Knysna Plett Herald

The candidates 

Former Knysna mayor Mark Willemse is standing for re-election in Ward 9, Knysna. (Photo supplied)
Chairperson of the Knysna Ratepayers Association, Susan Campbell is standing as an independent ward councillor candidate in one of two byelections scheduled for 11 November. (Photo supplied)

There are two strong candidates in both wards: in ward 9, Willemse is trying to regain the ward he had lost when he was fired. In Ward 10, the candidate is Susan Campbell, a lawyer and the current chairperson of the Knysna Ratepayers Association. One is standing as an independent candidate, while the other is part of a new localised political party. 

“Where I am now is to stand as an independent because I believe I can still make a difference, especially in my ward and there are ongoing issues that I started when I was a councillor and I’d like to see them through,”  said Willemse, who spoke to Daily Maverick while he was doing a meet-and-greet with residents last week. 

Issues included road upgrades and fixing the water and sewerage problems. Other plans include expanding the tourism sector across the town, including adventure tourism, revitalising the area’s timber industry and cashing in on software developments as Knysna has good access to WiFi and fibre connectivity, said Willemse. 

Speaking about his ward and his previous role as councillor, Willemse said, “I know I was successful in my ward; I was always contactable, I’ve always been accessible to everyone – I understand what’s going on in my ward, I talk to everybody and want to make a difference”. 

The former mayor said, “now, whether you’re a political party or an independent, that is the type of drive you need to have”.

Campbell, who is founder of the Knysna Independent Movement, said previously the association could work with councillors to get things done, but “it became clear to me last year that we were getting absolutely nowhere”. When KIM – Knysna Independent Movement – started, Campbell was asked to stand as a councillor in a previous by-election in 2019, which she lost. 

Asked what the biggest challenge was for her in the municipality, she points to corruption, “which leads to lack of service delivery”. 

But Campbell’s race hasn’t been easy, she told Daily Maverick – “challenges are immense, as we can’t have crowded meetings, we can’t have debates, we don’t have mailing lists like they have, they play dirty tricks”. The “they” Campbell refers to is the DA. 

Dr Dion George, the DA’s constituency head for Knysna, released a statement earlier in October, accusing Campbell of spreading misinformation.

DA calls on KIM candidate, Susan Campbell, to stop spreading misinformation

By Dr Dion George MP – DA Constituency Head…

Posted by DA – Knysna on Thursday, October 22, 2020

Campbell said outside of elections, she and George can have “rational and productive discussions” and added, “I’m sure once the election is over, we’ll get along well”.

If elected as a councillor, Campbell will immediately focus on fixing her ward’s (the CBD area) problems with water supply. “Every single ward in this council is in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades. Ward 10 often has bursting pipes which means that in December, tourists in hotels sit without water for hours, which is exceptionally bad for the town,” she said. “You’ve got to look at it holistically – if people in Ward 10 sit without water, it affects tourism and affects every single person in this town who is dependent on tourism because that is the major driver of the economy,” she told Daily Maverick

Campbell said there needs to be a focus on the essentials – sewerage, roads and water. Speaking about KIM, Campbell said “people need to have an option for a party that is localised and not within the mainstream”, adding at this point, there are no plans to expand the party beyond Knysna. 

“It all starts with getting back to basics, sorting out corruption,” she said. “If no money is diverted and every cent is spent where it is supposed to be, you are immediately going to have much more money to do what you have to do.”

Being a lawyer and sitting on the ratepayers’ association, does this put her at an advantage in the race for the councillorship? 

“Yes – it hopefully puts the people at an advantage – I can at least do something useful,” she replied. 

Campbell said if she is elected as ward councillor, she would resign from the ratepayers’ association, on the basis of a conflict of interest. 

But these by-elections take place in the more affluent wards of Knysna. According to Wazimap, the average annual income for Ward 9 was R230,700 and for Ward 10, it was R115,100. This is compared to an average annual income of R29,400 in the rest of the municipality.

 

These two wards are some of the wealthier in town, so why should other wards in Knysna care about this by-election? 

“Whatever happens in these wards has an influence on the rest of the town; the CBD is a big part of Knysna and that’s obviously where all of the business is,” said Willemse, adding, “in Ward 9, where I am standing, there are a lot of tourist attractions, businesses, guesthouses, industrias and others – so the bulk of the employment happens in these two wards.” 

The council – politics and municipal governance

“Whatever happens in these two elections is critical in taking this town forward,” said the former mayor. 

In the Knysna council, there are 21 seats. Eight each to the DA and ANC, while the African Christian Democratic Party, Cope and local Knysna Unity Congress (KUC), each have one seat. 

In July 2015, at the same by-election, both Ward 9 and 10 were up for grabs. Willemse and his party, the DA won 68% of the vote in Ward 9. Peter Meyer and his party, the DA, won 99% of the votes in Ward 10. Five years later, both these wards are up for grabs again. 

Before the two ward seats became vacant, the DA (which had 10 seats) formed a coalition with the ACDP. Now, the council is a coalition between the ANC, Cope and KUC. Cope councillor Elrick van Aswegen is the current mayor of Knysna, after being elected at a council sitting in June 2020. None of the governing coalition parties is contesting the by-elections on 11 November. 

“So we actually need to forget about the politics of the situation and understand what the duties of a councillor actually are,” said Willemse. “As an independent, I am not bound by a political party, I am bound to my constituents. So if the issue pertains to good governance, if it’s something that will benefit my community and benefit the town, why shouldn’t I be voting about it? And if parties want to oppose it because of the political situation, then they must do it– but then they’re not talking on behalf of their constituents.”

But if these candidates are elected, would they work with other parties within the council? 

“If the issues are like-minded and benefit my community and the greater Knysna, I am happy to work with all parties, even the DA,” said Willemse. 

“One person can have a lot of influence in the council, but it depends if the person is good or bad – my objective is that we have to clean up this place and we’ve got to do this properly,” said Campbell. 

George said the party is confident that the people of Knysna will make the right choice at the polls. “We are confident of taking both wards, we have been working hard in the lead-up to the by-election and very importantly, the people of Knysna are sensible, there’s only really a choice between two possibilities: and that is the DA or more ANC. If anybody votes for the independent candidates to win, they will just be voting for the ANC because those candidates would need to form an alliance or collaboration with the ANC,” said George, explaining that should the DA retain its seats, it would only need to work with its coalition partner the ACDP to secure a majority. 

Community activist Ralph Stander from Knysna United told Daily Maverick “the municipality is functioning on oxygen… the municipality is in ICU”. In June, The Cape Argus reported that Stander and his organisation appeared before Parliament’s cooperative governance oversight committee to ask for a parliamentary investigation into fraud and corruption allegations within the municipality. After that meeting, the provincial government was asked by the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to investigate allegations of fraud, maladministration and corruption. 

Read in Knysna-Plett Herald: Allegations against Knysna municipality accessed

When asked about his predictions for the by-elections, Stander said he thinks Willemse will win, while Campbell stood a “good chance” of taking the ward. 

Stander suggested that the municipality should be placed under administration by either the provincial or national government. 

Closing off, George said the first thing a new DA-led council would do is to provide clear and stable leadership, including solving issues of senior managers who are suspended to resolve these outstanding issues. 

“It is now up to the voters to decide what it is they want – they can either have a stable DA government that is on track with providing the services and making the town the jewel that it should become, or they can decide to vote with the independent candidates and keep the town ANC and we all see what the ANC has done to the town – it is quite shameful and if the town does not return to stable government soon, it will just carry on declining and it will become a place where nobody will want to live and nobody will want to invest in and that is not what anybody wants.” 

In the end, it all comes down to Wednesday, 11 November, when just over 7,000 registered voters are expected to cast their votes in the two wards. DM

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  • I welcome the independents and cant wait to get our councillor back in the driving seat. The party-run regimes have been appalling on so many levels for so long with devastating effect on our town. We need to get our town back on track, and track record speaks for itself.

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