What is Ekurhuleni council hiding?
The Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality has evoked a local government ordinance dating from 1939 to keep a discussion on suspicious land transactions worth millions out of the public eye.
Ekurhuleni speaker Patricia Kumalo ordered Mail & Guardian reporters Yolandi Groenewald and Adriaan Basson—who have previously reported on the controversy—out of a council meeting on Thursday afternoon.
Kumalo declared a special sitting of the council closed after the African National Congress (ANC) requested the media be excluded from the meeting.
The M&G has previously reported on a forensic investigation into the land deals, which could see ANC and opposition councillors gain handsomely.
ANC and opposition Ekurhuleni councillors stand to gain handsomely from the controversial deal, which may have robbed the municipality of millions of rands.
Two stands in the Meyersdal Nature Estate were bought and then sold by Gauteng local government minister Dorothy Mahlangu.
According to forensic investigators, the development was pushed through “irregularly”.
A forensic investigation, commissioned by Ekurhuleni city manager Patrick Flusk, has found that a controversial land swap of prime Alberton land was “managed and entered into primarily” by two senior managers of the Ekurhuleni municipality’s legal department who have since resigned.
The M&G has reported on Flusk’s allegation that the ownership of land “worth not less than R100-million” was transferred to developer Rean Booysen for “the paltry sum of some R7-million”.
A forensic report compiled by risk firm Pasco claims that the municipality might have lost up to R30-million.
The 1939 ordinance empowers the speaker to close a sitting of the council to the media where matters of a legal nature will be under discussion.
Basson and Groenewald were in the public gallery at the Ekurhuleni chambers in Germiston on Thursday afternoon when Kumalo told them to leave the chamber. Metro police officers then moved into the chamber to enforce the order.
A reporter from Beeld and another from the Alberton Record were also asked to leave.
Basson and Groenewald said on Thursday afternoon: ‘We are utterly disturbed by the call to keep secret a discussion of a matter that is obviously in the public interest. It doesn’t bode well for transparency and press freedom.”
The M&G has instructed its lawyers to lodge an official complaint with the speaker.
The M&G reported on September 21 this year that Ekurhuleni mayor Lentheng Mekgwe was expected to receive the forensic report on the Meyersdal land swap from Flusk.
After complaints by Gauteng’s department of agriculture, conservation and environment that a nature reserve should be conserved, developer Rean Booysen proposed a land swap with Ekurhuleni. Fifty-five hectares of privately owned land in the nature reserve would be swapped for a piece of municipal land of the same size in residential Meyersdal.
This exchange took place in 2006 and Booysen appointed ANC councillor Neil Diamond as the sole-mandate estate agent to sell plots in the development. The process was halted when Flusk refused to sign the section 82 certificate that clears the development’s engineering services.
Booysen unsuccessfully applied to the Pretoria High Court to force Flusk’s hand and was told to appeal internally first.
Flusk, who brought a counter-application for the land deal to be set aside, was sent back by the court, which told him he had no mandate to ask for such an order pending the finalisation of the forensic investigation.
Pasco now recommends that the land swap be set aside.