Knysna residents back mayor, accuse DA of not following due process

Mark Willemse. (Knysna government)

Mark Willemse. (Knysna government)

Residents in Knysna have nailed their colours to the mast in support of Mayor Mark Willemse, who is the subject of disciplinary action by the Democratic Alliance (DA). In a scathing letter to the party, the residents accuse the DA of failing to follow due process.

The Knysna Ratepayers’ Association (KRA) made their displeasure known to DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe and disciplinary committee member Anton Coetsee. Coetsee is also the council speaker in the Overstrand municipality.

The letter, which was submitted on July 5, explains that Willemse continues to enjoy the support of his constituency, while the DA itself, has fallen short in their eyes. The party has charged Willemse with breaching section 25 of the DA’s constitution, which states that a member is guilty of misconduct if they oppose the party’s principles or repeatedly opposes published party policies.

Willemse was elected mayor by council after the former mayor — Eleanore Bouw-Spies — was voted out in a motion of no confidence earlier this year. Since then, he has fallen foul of the party.

Knysna residents however, have condemned the DA for its action against Willemse. Their letter also states their opposition of the DA’s disciplinary action against councillor Peter Myers, who has been charged with misconduct. 

“Firstly, because we see no evidence of misconduct of any kind. The people of Knysna overwhelmingly support Willemse in his new role and insist that the DA must also support Willemse and Myers in their efforts to restore good governance and effective service delivery to our town—efforts which are being frustrated by this disciplinary proceeding,” the Knysna Ratepayers’ Association said in the letter.

The association went on to say that Willemse and Myers had been instrumental in “restoring the people of Knysna’s trust in the party”.

Willemse began his disciplinary hearing at the weekend in Cape Town, which the association had demanded be moved to Knysna. The association also questioned if the DA had followed due process, accusing the party of giving Willemse too little time to prepare. Their letter also questioned why only one day had been set aside for the hearing. They maintain Willemse was not given ample time to prepare his case and call witnesses.

To show commitment in their support to Willemse, the residents have also demanded that they be allowed to make representations to the disciplinary panel.

“The KRA (Knysna Ratepayers’ Association) also wishes to take this opportunity to request leave to make representations in these hearings. We cannot do so if they are held in Cape Town, and we cannot do so if they are held this Saturday,” the letter reads.

“Our representations will include our contention that the hearings in this new disciplinary proceeding must be open to the public. If the panel wishes to have the hearings held in camera, we request permission to make representations in limine as to why the hearings should be open to the public.”

Willemse has also demanded in his submissions to the disciplinary panel that the hearings be open to the public, in a move echoing Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille’s own efforts to have a public hearing when she battled the DA.

The DA, meanwhile insists that it is committed to following due process in Willemse’s case and to ensure that any decisions that it makes are in the public interest.

Willemse’s hearing has been postponed until August, where it is expected to take place in Knysna. 

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra'eesa Pather

Ra’eesa Pather is a general news journalist with the Mail & Guardian’s online team. She cut her teeth at The Daily Vox in Cape Town before moving to Johannesburg and joining the M&G. She's written about memory, race and gender in columns and features, and has dabbled in photography. Read more from Ra'eesa Pather

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