Civil society organisations in Durban are concerned that soon-to-be-adopted eThekwini metro council rules limiting the flow of information from “sensitive” meetings and the purchase of Casspir armoured vehicles are pointing to an increased securitisation of the city.
The four Casspirs, bought by the municipality at a cost of R20-million without a formal tender process, will be delivered later this month by arms manufacturer Denel-Mechem. They will be used for riot control by the city’s metro police once drivers have been trained to use them.
Civil society groups say the Rules of Order Amendment Bylaw will limit the ability of the media to cover council meetings.
The amendments were opposed by the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party in the council and will go before the year’s final council meeting later this month.
Groups including the Right2Know Campaign and the Active Citizens Movement will meet on Thursday to discuss how to halt the amendments.
But city officials have defended them, arguing that the idea is to clarify issues, including the circumstances under which the executive committee (exco) could close meetings to the public and the media.
The amendments would also provide a “structure” for the speaker to remove a person from a council meeting and would extend the conduct not currently permitted by councillors.
Yet, in a letter to civic and activist organisations this week, Active Citizen Movement secretary general Yashica Padia said the changes to the rules meant the council would close meetings to the public and media when investigations, reports or internal audit reports could be “compromised by public disclosure” .
This would close off access to meetings at which irregular practices and corruption could be exposed and embarrass the council.
The new regulations give the speaker or exco chairperson the power to allow or to bar the media from meetings. Currently, according to procedures introduced by then eThekwini municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe in 2007, the public is allowed access to the meetings unless a specific meeting needs to be held in camera.
The amendments also ban the use of cellphones or computers by councillors, traditional leaders, officials and the media to transmit information from council meetings.
“While, under exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to protect privileged and confidential information, giving these draconian powers to council is a recipe for abuse, corruption and a complete lack of transparency and accountability,” Padia said. “This proposal by council to change the Rules of Order is unconstitutional and unlawful.”
IFP exco member Mdu Nkosi said the party would continue to oppose the changes, and the purchase of Casspirs was “madness”.
“There is no need for us to buy Casspirs. It is a waste of ratepayers’ and taxpayers’ money. Armoured support is a function of the SAPS [South African Police Service], not the metro police,” Nkosi said.
“They motivate by saying they are needed at Glebelands Hostel. The SAPS have had Casspirs at Glebelands but people are still dying. Rather take the money and focus on helping the people of eThekwini,” Nkosi said.
‘People are protesting because of poor service delivery. They have a right to do so. Rather than buying Casspirs, spend the money on improving service delivery. If there is service delivery, they will not take to the streets,” he added.
Community activist Desmond D’Sa said he had “massive concerns” about the city’s move, which would “further put a blanket over the flow of information from council”.
“There has been a bureaucratisation and securitisation of the entire city under this administration,” he said. “The flow of information from crucial departments has been blocked already. This will make things worse.
“We thought the new brooms coming in [under mayor Zandile Gumede] would be more tolerant and transparent. The opposite is happening.”
Mayoral spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede said the metro was not trying to block the flow of information but was “integrating” the council rules.
“eThekwini is the only metro or district that has allowed the media in. We are only wanting to regulate movement so that, if you want to come in and record, you have to get permission,” he said.
City spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said the Casspirs would go into service once drivers were trained. She said they would be used for “safeguarding metro police, security or council members when deploying to volatile situations”. They would also be used in “static situations where the possibility exists for volatility”.