Bitter legal battle over control of Tshwane resumes

The legal wrangle for the reins of South Africa's capital city which has been playing out for the past six months is set to come before the country's highest court today. In March, the Gauteng government decided to dissolve the Tshwane municipal council, led by the Democratic Alliance (DA), place it under administration and hold fresh elections. This followed months of infighting which left the council unable to hold any meetings. As the bitter power struggle rages on – and with Tshwane currently without a council, mayor or even a permanent city manager – political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says the...
The legal wrangle for the reins of South Africa's capital city which has been playing out for the past six months is set to come before the country's highest court today.

In March, the Gauteng government decided to dissolve the Tshwane municipal council, led by the Democratic Alliance (DA), place it under administration and hold fresh elections. This followed months of infighting which left the council unable to hold any meetings.

As the bitter power struggle rages on – and with Tshwane currently without a council, mayor or even a permanent city manager – political analyst Somadoda Fikeni says the public is fast becoming "disillusioned by politics in general".

"They realise, between the parties, there seems to be no majority," he said yesterday. Fikeni said while some thought coalitions were "the way to go", the situation in Tshwane – where the DA was leading as part of a coalition with smaller parties – was proof of the potentially "disastrous" end results.

In April, the High Court in Pretoria overturned the decision but the Gauteng government then launched an urgent and direct access application for leave to appeal to the Constitutional Court, which suspended the high court's ruling.

The DA has since approached the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein for a special order that the high court's ruling be implemented immediately, regardless of the pending appeal bid, but it has not yet handed down a decision. That appeal bid starts today.

The high court found the "interference" from one sphere of government into another sphere represented by the decision to place Tshwane under administration was "most intrusive" and that it could "only be resorted to in exceptional circumstances".

But in his founding affidavit before the Constitutional Court, Gauteng cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC Lebogang Maile argued the executive had "wide discretion" to decide how it met its objectives and that it was not for courts to interfere with the chosen means "simply because they do not like them".

He urged the court to intervene, saying, "the real victims of all this politicking are the people of the City of Tshwane".

He argued the constitution empowered the provincial government to step in and "cut the Gordian knot" and that the decision to dissolve the constitution had not been "knee-jerk". "The province first tried a softer approach," he said.

"The softer approach did not work". Tshwane DA mayoral candidate Randall Williams in his affidavit, though, argued the provincial government's powers to intervene were "limited and tightly constrained" in terms of the constitution.

"Indeed the MEC and Gauteng [government] had a wide range of powers available to them that are less intrusive and would be more effective," Williams said.

"There can be no confidence that the dissolution decision would resolve the problems purportedly identified by the Gauteng government. It is eminently possible that the election which is to occur within 90 days of the dissolution decision will again result in a hung council with many of the same councillors returning to their positions."

Williams said the Gauteng government had not made out a case to "leapfrog" the SCA and approach the Constitutional Court directly and the case should be thrown out on that basis alone.

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