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Knysna municipal manager apologises for telling DA councillor to ‘shut up’

Knysna municipal manager apologises for telling DA councillor to ‘shut up’
The Knysna municipal building, scene of heated exchanges at a recent council meeting. (Photo: Action SA / Wikipedia)

Tourism hotspot Knysna, currently beset by serious service delivery issues, could be placed under administration by the provincial government — and a recent council meeting on the issue got very heated.

Knysna Municipal Manager Ombali Sebola has apologised for telling a councillor to “shut up”. The incident occurred during a meeting to discuss the municipality’s reaction to a letter from the provincial government about plans to put the municipality under administration.

“As the municipal manager, I wish to extend my sincerest apologies for my behaviour during the special council meeting on Friday, 3 May 2024. My actions were unexpected and regrettable, causing shock to all present, including myself,” Sebola said.

Daily Maverick has seen a video of the meeting where Sebola told councillor Jason White (DA) to “shut up”.

White responded, “You are not going to speak to me in this fashion. No! Do you think this is Limpopo?”

Following a heated exchange between Sebola and White, the municipal manager withdrew his remarks, according to a transcript of the meeting.

On Wednesday, Sebola told Daily Maverick: “I recognise that my behaviour, contrary to my usual demeanour of calmness even in challenging circumstances, was unacceptable. I allowed my frustration to cloud my judgment, and for this I take full responsibility.

“Although explanations may offer context, they do not excuse or justify my conduct. I maintain positive relationships with all councillors, regardless of political affiliation, and I publicly apologised to councillor Jason White during the council meeting.

“Again, I offer my sincere apologies to councillor White and the entire Knysna community for my lapse in judgment. It is my commitment to uphold the highest standards of professionalism and conduct in my role as the municipal manager.”

In a diagnostic assessment report — a section 154 plan — on the municipality, one key recommendation is training for councillors on “roles and responsibilities and the code of conduct”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ​​Five key takeaways from the Knysna service delivery diagnostic report

White said he would submit a complaint against Sebola in terms of disciplinary regulations for senior management. He would also open a case of crimen injuria with the police for the “intentional and wilful impairing of my dignity”, according to White’s social media post after the incident.

The 3 May council meeting was not uploaded on to YouTube where the public could access it, unlike other live-streamed council meetings. When Daily Maverick asked why the meeting had not been uploaded — despite links being posted to the municipality’s social media pages — Sebola said, “I was not even aware that the link was removed. I will investigate the matter.”

Administration calls

The council meeting was held to discuss a letter from the Western Cape MEC for local government, environmental affairs and development planning, Anton Bredell, which called for the Knysna council to be placed under administration — a section 139 intervention — because of issues with service delivery in the coastal municipality.

According to Bredell’s letter, as published in the Knysna council agenda, there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Knysna municipality was not fulfilling its obligations in terms of the Constitution and other legislation and had not taken reasonable steps to address challenges.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Knysna Municipality must adopt service delivery report or face intervention — Alan Winde

According to the council agenda, Sebola recommended that the council note the letter sent by Bredell, and the council confirmed its “unconditional and absolute commitment” for the continued roll-out of the section 154 support plan in collaboration with other departments such as the provincial and national governments.

Sebola also recommended that the 21-seat council mandate the Speaker and the mayor to formally communicate to Bredell that the matters he referred to in his letter were being addressed via the section 154 plan.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ​​ActionSA calls for Knysna to be placed under administration over service delivery challenges

Sebola told Daily Maverick the council had to engage with Bredell about the intervention.

“The aim is to request the withdrawal of the intention to implement section 139 while allowing section 154 to proceed uninterrupted. Council resolved that I, the municipal manager, should engage legal advisers to pursue legal action against the MEC of the province if section 139 is pursued,” he said.

“We are keen to avoid unnecessary legal costs and sincerely hope for an amicable resolution between council and the minister’s office to prevent the matter from escalating to court.” DM

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