The Democratic Alliance (DA) has found Knysna mayor Mark Willemse guilty of misconduct because he chose to vote against his caucus and instead voted with his conscience during a motion of no confidence earlier this year.
The embattled mayor was notified over the weekend that the party’s federal legal commission had found him guilty of misconduct after a protracted disciplinary hearing, which had been made public to the media.
Willemse said his legal representatives were still discussing a response to the party, but they have until September 7 to apply to appeal the decision.
“I was found guilty of misconduct, but the actual misconduct pertains to me going against a caucus decision,” Willemse said.
“In our hearing, it was acknowledged that I voted with my conscience but in doing so I contravened a clause in the DA constitution that we went against a caucus decision in voting with our conscience,” Willemse said.
Willemse was put on the party’s chopping block after he voted with the ANC’s motion of no confidence in former DA Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies in June. Bouw-Spies was ousted after she lost the motion of no confidence and Willemse was elected by the council to take over as mayor.
The Knysna mayor said he had felt emboldened to vote with his conscience because of the Constitutional Court’s judgment in the United Democratic Movement v. Speaker of the National Assembly case last year, which allows political party members to vote with their conscience, instead of being held to toe the party line.
Willemse said the party charged him with violating a clause in the DA Constitution, which states that a public representative’s membership with the party can be revoked if that member decides to vote in a way that does not comply with how the caucus agreed to vote.
Bonginkosi Madikizela, the DA’s provincial leader in the Western Cape, said that Willemse had “colluded with the opposition” when the motion was brought against Bouw-Spies. He was further charged for disobeying a party instruction that he should resign as mayor and submit himself to the party’s mayoral candidate selection process, Madikizela said.
“When we decide to join the party we must subject ourselves to the rules and the Constitution of the party. It cannot be a free for all. If you are going to decide to show the party leadership the middle finger and contravene our constitution, then the party must act,” Madikizela said.
Ordinarily, Willemse’s DA membership would be terminated for violating such a rule in the party’s Constitution, but the party’s provincial executive committee suspended the sanction on condition that Willemse sack mayoral committee member Peter Myers — who is also facing disciplinary action — and resigns as mayor to instead apply for the position through the DA’s selection process.
The Knysna Ratepayers’ Association has meanwhile lambasted the party for its findings against Willemse. “We are tired of being pawns in provincial DA power struggles. We are tired of a DA that refuses to back the first mayor we have had in many years who is genuinely committed to protecting the interests of Knysna’s residents,” the association said in a social media post on Facebook.
“We have had enough of DA provincial bosses who abuse the interests of Knysna’s residents to advance the political careers of their deeply compromised favourites. You know who you are. If we cannot appeal to your principles, at least we can warn you of the damage to your own political careers that will inevitably occur if you continue this charade,” the association added.
Willemse finds himself joining a queue of other DA public representatives who face being sacked from their positions around the country. In Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip was voted out of his position as mayor in a hotly contested council meeting, while Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga is also facing a potential removal. On Thursday, a motion of no confidence in Msimanga was struck from the council agenda because not all requirements were met when it was tabled.
Both Trollip and Msimanga have been caught in the middle of a coalition shuffle in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, that has left the DA losing its power in those municipalities.
In the Western Cape, the party is grappling with its own internal party dilemmas which has already seen a bruising battle with Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, and disputes with its mayors in George, Knysna and Matzikama.
“Of course we are concerned and that is why we are taking corrective action. What we cannot do is allow ill-disciplined people to get away with murder. If we do that then we might as well pack our bags and just go home,” Madikizela said.
Willemse will have until next week Friday to respond to the party’s findings. If he does not comply with the sanctions, Madikizela confirmed that he will lose his membership.