Thousands attend Matatiele demarcation hearings

More than 3 000 people packed the local soccer stadium in Matatiele as the second day of public hearings on the region’s controversial incorporation into the Eastern Cape started on Tuesday.

Police spokesperson Superintendent Zandra Hechter said that by 10.30am there were at least 500 people at the stadium, but by 2pm officers were reporting that at least 3 000 people had converged on the stadium.

She said a contingent of 60 police officers was keeping watch over proceedings, but that no incidents had been reported.

Matatiele was incorporated into the Eastern Cape on February 28, hours before voting started in the local government election of 2006.

Similarly, the Umzimkulu region was incorporated into KwaZulu-Natal from the Eastern Cape.

The hearings are being held in terms of the Constitution 13th Amendment Bill.

Hearings were held in Pietermaritzburg and the last public hearings were held in Umzimkulu and Matatiele.

However, the hall in Matatiele at which the hearings were held was too small and all those who wanted to speak did not have an opportunity.

A decision was taken to stage a second day of hearings at the Matatiele Soccer Stadium on Tuesday.

On Tuesday afternoon the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) KwaZulu-Natal caucus leader, Roger Burrows, said 35 submissions had been heard.

“They were overwhelmingly in favour of KwaZulu-Natal, although there were some submissions in favour of the Eastern Cape,” he said.

While Umzimkulu residents have overwhelmingly endorsed their incorporation into KwaZulu-Natal, those in Matatiele have been divided against incorporation.

On August 18, Constitutional Court Judge Sandile Ngcobo said in his judgement that the part of the Twelfth Amendment Act that altered the boundaries of KwaZulu-Natal was invalid because it was not adopted in a manner consistent with the Constitution.

Although the Eastern Cape held public hearings on the matter of Matatiele being incorporated into the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal did not.

There was therefore not sufficient public participation in the legislative process, which was inconsistent with the Constitution.

Ngcobo suspended the order of invalidity for 18 months for Parliament to adopt a new amendment to the Constitution if it wished to.

Matatiele-Maluti Mass Action Organising Committee chairperson Mandla Galo said on Tuesday the organisation would be presenting 3 920 written submissions against the district’s continued incorporation into the Eastern Cape.

“The reasons for wanting to stay in KwaZulu-Natal are economic. The distance between Matatiele and Bisho is the same as going from Matatiele to Pretoria.”

He said most people in the district were oriented towards Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The opposition to being incorporated into the Eastern Cape went across the colour spectrum.

“White business and farmers are behind us.
I must sincerely thank them for giving their workers time off today to come here [to the stadium].”

“The amicable solution is a referendum,” he said

Once the public hearings have been heard, the KwaZulu-Natal legislature will then have to vote on the district’s incorporation into the Eastern Cape.

It is believed that the KwaZulu-Natal legislature will vote on the issue on Thursday.

All of the province’s opposition political parties, including the DA and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), are against incorporation.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC), which has seen its support in the district dwindle, will need all its members to be present as it has a slim majority in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

ANC secretary general Senzo Mchunu said that members in the legislature would have to abide by the party’s national executive council (NEC) decision.

“Based on these two [the NEC decision and the Constitutional Court ruling] it should go to the Eastern Cape.”

He said the public hearings would “allow us to take a much more informed decision”.

He conceded that it would “be very difficult” for ANC members of the legislature who wanted to see the district stay in the province.

Traditionally an ANC stronghold, the issue of incorporation has split the ANC in the district with the formation of the African Independent Congress (AIC), which garnered a large percentage of the vote and four seats in the 2006 municipal elections.

Two of the AIC councillors have since used the opportunity of floor-crossing to switch sides to the DA.

DA councillor Kenneth Biggs said the KwaZulu-Natal legislature had the power to veto Matatiele’s incorporation into the Eastern Cape.

“It’s serious crunch time for us,” he said.—Sapa

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