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WESTERN CAPE

Garden Route ratepayers up in arms over controversial DA appointment of ex-mayor to provincial legislature

Garden Route ratepayers up in arms over controversial DA appointment of ex-mayor to provincial legislature
Former Garden Route District Municipality mayor Memory Booysen. (Photo: Garden Route District Municipalty / Wikipedia)

New members of the Western Cape legislature will be sworn into office on Thursday. Among them will be the Democratic Alliance’s Memory Booysen, the controversial former Garden Route mayor.

On Thursday 13 June, Memory Booysen will be among 42 members of the Western Cape legislature taking their oath of office. The former mayor of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) leaves behind a complicated legacy and faces criticism for his defence of a municipal manager implicated in fraudulent property transfers worth more than R60-million.

As the DA’s 24th candidate on its Western Cape list, Booysen will become a member of the provincial legislature as the party secured 24 seats following the general elections. Booysen resigned as mayor and councillor of the municipality on 8 June.

Despite praise from within his party, his defence of a municipal manager who was charged with fraud and forgery over property transactions between the Garden Route District Municipality and the Knysna Municipality continues to draw criticism.

The Garden Route District Municipality covers local municipalities such as George, Knysna, Mossel Bay, Hessequa, Kannaland, Oudtshoorn and Booysen’s hometown of Bitou.

Who is Memory Booysen? 

Booysen, a resident of Plettenberg Bay, worked in the private sector before becoming involved in politics. After 1994, he was a councillor for the ANC but was expelled. After a brief flirtation with Cope, he joined the DA. He became Bitou’s mayor in 2011.

Booysen would go on to serve as mayor of the Garden Route District Municipality in 2016. After the 2021 municipal elections, he was re-elected for a second term. 

When Daily Maverick asked DA provincial leader Tertuis Simmers to elaborate on the qualities that would make Booysen a suitable candidate for the legislature, he said: “Mr Booysen’s political career spans over two decades in local government.”

Simmers told Daily Maverick on Tuesday: “At the (ratepayers) meeting, the DA stressed that the allegations against Mr Booysen were subjected to various investigations that have not concluded yet, and therefore due process needs to be respected. No further action could thus be taken as per the regulations of the DA’s code of conduct.” 

This meant Booysen was eligible to be on the DA’s candidate list. 

Simmers went further: “Mr Booysen, like all DA candidates for the 2024 national and provincial elections, was subject to a rigorous selection and vetting process. The principle of innocent until proven guilty applies to all, therefore this principle is also part of our internal candidate selection process.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Carte Blanche report: Memory Booysen, mayor with a bulletproof vest

Allegations 

In February 2024, the Garden Route Ratepayers’ Alliance – consisting of 22 ratepayers’ associations – wrote to the DA’s Helen Zille with a request for a meeting to discuss, among other things, Booysen’s alleged intervention with Monde Stratu, the current municipal manager for the Garden Route District Municipality.

According to the letter, several documents were doing the rounds at the time, including internal leaked DA and Garden Route District Municipality council documents and media articles from the Cape Independent, about possible motions of no confidence in Booysen from within his own DA caucus. 

The letter, which Daily Maverick has seen, said “documentation shows that these gentlemen have been closely associated since at least 2012 when both served the Bitou Municipality and have been close colleagues since then… Reports from this time illustrate how Booysen intervened when Stratu was being held to account for serious financial mismanagement. The consequences were that the Bitou Municipality lost several million rands.” 

The letter went further: “Inexplicably, to us, these gentlemen were both appointed to GRDM in 2016 and we continue to experience further accusations of wrongdoing with serious financial implications for the GRDM, our members, the ratepayers and residents, to the tune of millions of rand.

“The time has come for you to address these issues once and for all,” said the letter.

“As an association which is strictly apolitical, it is with great reluctance that we communicate with you as executive members of a political party, but we believe we face a crisis and that straight talking to power has become unavoidable.” 

Property transfers, alleged fraud

In May 2023, Daily Maverick reported on how Stratu, along with the fired Central Karoo District municipal manager, Dr Sitembele Vatala, appeared in court on charges of fraud and forgery involving more than R60-million, which revolved around property transfers between the Knysna Municipality and the Garden Route District Municipality over five years.

It was reported that Booysen had said he, with Knysna mayor Aubrey Tswenga, agreed the investigation and arrest amounted to “malicious prosecution, marred with procedural flaws, that was aimed at tainting the reputation of the two institutions and further embarrassing Stratu”.

He also claimed in a media statement released in March 2023 that the district council had approved that the municipal manager be legally represented and for the administration to take legal action to protect the reputation of both the institution and the municipal manager. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Two municipal bosses in court on R60m Garden Route fraud charges

Months later, Booysen apologised “unreservedly” for not ascertaining the facts around the dispute and for casting aspersions against the NPA over the prosecutions, reported the Knysna-Plett Herald.

In March 2024, the Knysna-Plett Herald reported the case against Stratu and Vatala had been struck off the roll, with the NPA still deciding whether to re-enrol the matter. 

‘Innocent until proven guilty’

Daily Maverick confirmed Zille met the ratepayers’ association in March, along with Simmers.

Steve Pattison, chair of the Garden Route Ratepayers’ Alliance, expressed the group’s “total dismay at “rewarding” someone allegedly implicated in wrongdoing. 

“I believe that proper investigations must take place and they should be made public so that the Garden Route community can have confidence that proper processes have been followed. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that they are parachuting him out to avoid disciplinary action.”

On Tuesday, Booysen was yet to respond to Daily Maverick’s calls or messages. 

In an address to the Garden Route District Municipality after his last council meeting, Stratu said of Booysen: “I recall your support during my toughest moments, including my arrest for council-mandated work. Your friendship and reassurance were invaluable.” DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ritchie Morris says:

    The rambling man will be ‘rambling’ away from the Garden Route – that is good news. Mr Booysen is the epitome of a politician, ‘a person who has the ability to say a lot about nothing’.

  • Alan Watkins says:

    So how is this different from what the DA accuses the ANC of, when one of theirs is fingered for corrupt dealings? We expect more, much more, and much better from the DA

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