Vasco da Gama elected as Johannesburg’s council speaker despite slight interruptions

The votes are in and Joburgers now have a new council speaker in the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Vasco da Gama. But it’s been a day of stops and starts.

A heated discussion ensued when Johannesburg city manager Trevor Fowler halted the voting process for Johannesburg’s next speaker, saying the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), which was presiding over the vote, had noted irregularities.

“We are stopping the process for a moment. The IEC has picked up some concerns,” Fowler said.

Party agents then swarmed over to the stage, where Fowler and Gauteng judge president Dustan Mlambo sat. The IEC ruled that parties may not fold their ballot in a way that allows others to see their vote but the EFF protested, with its deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, saying that disclosing a vote is a personal choice.

“We are not forcing anyone to disclose their vote,” Shivambu said.

But the IEC was firm its ruling, saying that when a ballot is cast it must be kept secret. Fowler, as chair of the meeting, said the IEC’s stance must be respected. An agreement had been made among parties that the IEC would observe the election to ensure it is fair.

“We ask people to desist from it [revealing their ballot]. If it continues, we will run it again and we will continue to run it again until people get tired,” Fowler said.

Fowler wanted the voting process to continue so that the matter could settled there and then instead of in court. But the EFF continued to disagree, with councillor Musa Novela loudly declaring “you can take us to court. You cannot force people to keep their vote secret if they don’t want to”.

But the IEC said that under the Muncipal Structures Act, a ballot must remain secret from the time it is issued until it is placed inside the ballot box. Schedule 3 of the act, under election procedure, simply states that the vote must happen in the council meeting by secret ballot. There is no definition of what a secret ballot is. 

The process was suspended for a few minutes when Fowler opened the floor for some questions before counting resumed. There was disagreement among the councillors but in the end, Fowler ruled that the count would continue. This despite the African Independent Congress (AIC) asking for a re-run because of the interruptions and disclosure of ballots.

“We believe then that there is no democracy in it. As the AIC, we are asking for a re-run because people’s votes were not secret,” AIC councillor Margaret Arnolds said.

But DA councillor Kevin Wax disagreed, running with the EFF’s principle that a secret ballot is a personal choice.

“What was demonstrated this morning was democracy,” Wax said of the people who had publicised their vote.

“The framework we have in place for a secret vote is there for a person who doesn’t want their vote to be public.”

Another DA councillor had an opinion similar to Arnolds, saying that South African voters are not allowed to show others their vote during election day, so leaders cannot adjust the rules for themselves.

The DA’s Vasco da Gama and the ANC’s Constance Bapela had been nominated as speakers and the majority of the 270 councillors voted in favour of da Gama.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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