The African National Congress in Kokstad’s Matatiele municipality has splintered over the government’s handling of the cross-border dispute in the area.
A new political party, called the African Independent Congress, led by former ANC mayor Cedric Canham, will field candidates in 23 of the municipality’s 24 wards.
And this week the once fiercely pro-ANC community mounted a legal challenge to the government, asking the Constitutional Court to stop the transfer of Matatiele from KwaZulu-Natal to the Eastern Cape before the March 1 local election. About 200 community members caught overnight taxis to Johannesburg on Tuesday to attend.
Central to their application is the claim that Parliament has usurped the power of the Municipal Demarcation Board, a constitutionally independent organ of the state, in changing provincial boundaries to eliminate cross-border councils.
The court will rule next week whether it can be approached directly over a municipal demarcation dispute or whether a lower court should first handle the case.
The judgement could strike down the new demarcation of 16 former cross-border municipalities, and could thus have far-reaching implications for the local election, said Alastair Dickson, the respondents’ lawyer.
The community, represented by the Matatiele/Maluti Mass Action Committee, wants the court to rule on the constitutionality of the Twelfth Constitutional Amendment, gazetted on December 27 last year, which resets the provincial borders, and the Cross-Boundary Municipalities Laws Repeal and Related Matters Act, gazetted on December 27, which realigns the boundaries of the affected municipalities.
The committee claims that in passing the Bills Parliament exceeded its powers, because although it may legally demarcate provinces, the demarcation of municipalities is the preserve of the constitutionally independent Municipal Demarcation Board.
The state argued that Parliament has the authority to demarcate provincial boundaries and that the Acts were promulgated for ”purposes of alleviating the administrative constraints of cross-border municipalities, in the interests of the national government”.
Despite repeated questions from the judges, the respondents could not give a comprehensive answer as to why the two Bills had been enacted against community objections and the demarcation board’s decision.
The Matatiele community has drawn up a chronology of what it describes as a ”decision … not apparently based on any merit factors but political and ulterior factors”. They are as follows:
- May 2003: Matatiele municipality received a circular from the Municipal Demarcation Board advising it of the demarcation procedure. The municipality submitted its objections to being incorporated into the Eastern Cape, principally that it was wholly within KwaZulu-Natal and therefore not a cross-boundary municipality under the Municipal Structure Act. The government argued it made administrative sense to treat it as a cross-boundary municipality.
- August 13: Two secret letters are written by the South African Police Service and sent to provincial commissioners, including that of KwaZulu-Natal, explaining that Sydney Mufamadi will announce on August 22 that Matatiele will be moved to the Eastern Cape, according to the applicants. ”You are urged to optimise all sources to ensure that any information regarding protest or other destabilising actions in response to this announcement is pro-actively provided,” the letter allegedly reads. In his affidavit Mufamadi denies knowledge of these letters. The applicants say this indicates that the executive had already decided Matatiele’s fate.
- August 25: The Matatiele mayor, Cedric Canham, attends a meeting with the KwaZulu-Natal local government minister Mike Mabuyakhulu. Canham writes to the demarcation board indicating the council’s objection to being included in the Eastern Cape.
- September 22: The Matatiele municipality delivers 3 248 individual representations and a petition carrying over 1 000 signatures to the demarcation board against incorporation.
- October 13: The community meets Mufamadi, who assures them they will be listened to.
- October 20: The demarcation board issues a declaration to the effect that Matatiele will stay in KwaZulu-Natal and be joined by Maluti, a small area on the Eastern Cape border.
- October to December: Parliament and the National Council of Provinces, at the request of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Brigitte Mabandla, ”fast-track” the Twelfth Constitutional Amendment and repeal law, effectively annexing Matatiele to the Eastern Cape and overriding the demarcation board.
- December 27: President Thabo Mbeki promulgates the Acts.