Whilst local politics were relatively quiet in the build up to the Provincial and National elections, it seems that now that particular voting process is done and dusted, the next season of Knysna Council’s ‘Game of Thrones’ has begun.
This with a Motion of No Confidence (MONC) against Knysna Mayor Mark Willemse set to be heard at Thursday’s Council Meeting.
After having been left alone for a few months the DA Mayor is evidently back on the chopping block, after a surprise move by seven of the nine councillors in the DA Caucus (Cllr Michelle Wasserman, Cllr Donovan Pofadder, Cllr Levael Davis, Cllr Georlene Wolmarans, Cllr Sibusiso Kwinana, Cllr Luzuko Tyokolo and Cllr Cathy Weideman) who have submitted notice of a MONC against him.
The Knysna Ratepayers Association is incensed about this motion, and have issued a strongly-worded statement as follows.
“Knysna residents are again being treated to the unedifying spectacle of remote-controlled DA councillors trying to get rid of Mayor Mark Willemse by bringing a Motion of No Confidence (“MONC”) against him. Although the councillors claim (in a press release) that “this is not the result of any instruction from the leadership structures of the DA”, the history behind this tells a different story—it is clear that DA party bosses in Cape Town are again interfering in Knysna’s governance. Their motive: in June 2018 Willemse, a DA Councillor, was voted in by a coalition of the ANC, a minority of DA councillors, and independent councillors to replace former DA Mayor Eleanor Bouw-Spies. Some party bosses have never forgiven Mark (Willemse) for putting the interests of the town and its residents ahead of party loyalty.
“This week’s notice of intention to introduce a MONC against Willemse was signed by DA Councillor Michelle Wasserman and seconded by DA councillor Levael Davis. As far as the councillors’ stated motivation is concerned, the notice simply says: “The Executive Mayor has not in the view of Council performed his duties satisfactorily.” Is that a motivation? If you google “define: motivation” you will find the following: a set of facts and arguments used in support of a proposal.” Councillor Wasserman’s motivation is either a masterpiece of brevity and conciseness, or no motivation at all. You decide.
“In the unlikely event that the MONC carries, and in the even less likely event that the DA caucus can muster the votes from the entire Council to elect a new mayor, the fortunate beneficiary is likely to be none other than the DA’s own Michelle Wasserman—the author of the MONC to remove Mayor Willemse. Ironically, Wasserman was not elected to this Council, but was parachuted in to replace Willemse almost a year ago, if the DA could force him out as mayor. Although she was elected Ward 9 councillor in 2011, she left her ward in the lurch when she resigned in 2015, opening the door to current Ward 9 Councillor (and Mayor) Willemse, who had to pick up the pieces, and has since proved his mettle and earned the admiration and support of residents from all of Knysna’s disparate communities.”
The press release the Ratepayers quote was sent out earlier in the day by Councillor Michelle Wasserman on behalf of the seven councillors. It gives the following reasons for the MONC in the current Knysna Mayor.
1. The Democratic Alliance’s 2016 Manifesto set out the DA’s plan and promise of what DA-run local governments would deliver. Despite repeated requests from the caucus that he do so, Cllr Willemse has not made any effort to use the DA manifesto as a basis for prioritisation and planning for Knysna Municipality.
2. Cllr Willemse has not shown political leadership and is not providing strategic direction to Knysna Municipality’s administration. Consequence management has also not been implemented during his tenure as Executive Mayor.
3. Cllr Willemse has lost credibility amongst councillors, officials and members of the public who perceive him as being unable to make his own decisions and being “remote controlled” by Cllr Peter Myers.
4. Cllr Willemse does not take the concerns and advice of members of the DA caucus (other than Cllr Peter Myers) seriously and has repeatedly either neglected to bring matters to the caucus or ignored the needs of the community that are brought to the table by members of the DA caucus. One of the most recent examples of this was our request to Cllr Willemse to timeously consult with communities regarding the installation of water meters. This request was ignored and the result was the service delivery protests which closed the N2 and negatively affected the whole town.
5. On 6 June 2018 Cllr Willemse, together with the ANC, voted out the approved DA Mayor. He then accepted the nomination for the position of Executive Mayor despite not being properly approved by the DA to do so and was voted into that position by the ANC.
6. In September 2018 Cllr Willemse participated in the Democratic Alliance’s selection process for the position of Executive Mayor for Knysna Municipality. Despite participating in the process, he elected to reject its outcome when he was not chosen as the successful candidate.
The release continues:
The decisions to request Cllr Willemse to resign and to submit a MONC against him were made by the seven of us personally and are not the result of any instruction from the leadership structures of the DA. We have, in terms of the DA’s Federal Constitution, requested that the DA’s Federal Executive approve our MONC and we await its response.
There is an argument circulating on social media that Cllr Willemse “followed his voters’ mandate” when he voted with the ANC to oust DA Executive Mayor, former Cllr Bouw-Spies, and accept the position of Executive Mayor. This argument is manifestly unsound. How was this mandate given when hardly any of the residents of his ward were aware of what was happening until after it had happened?
DA Mayors are required to implement the local government manifesto of the DA. In practice, this means that the Mayor must ensure that DA policies and the manifesto inform municipal policies and budgets through the IDP and budget process plan. Cllr Willemse makes no secret of the fact that he does not, and will not, take direction from the DA manifesto. This means that what people voted for in 2016 is not what they are getting.
Knysna residents might feel that they do not care if Cllr Willemse implements the DA manifesto or not, as long as his planning and prioritisation is in the best interests of the town. Therein lies a second problem: if Cllr Willemse has a plan of his own then we, members of his caucus, are not aware of it.
We have seen the petition initiated by local residents against our MONC which states that “after many years of neglecting our Knysna Town, Cllr Willemse got things going again”. We question what Cllr Willemse has done to “get things going again”. The projects which are currently rolling out, for example the Charlesford Scheme and the Knysna CBD upgrade were initiated prior to Cllr Willemse’s tenure.
What role has Cllr Willemse played in implementing the projects identified by the Garden Route Rebuild Initiative (GRRI)? When we asked Cllr Willemse if anyone in the municipality was taking responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the GRRI projects, specifically the revival of the Choo Tjoe steam train (which is vital for tourism as well as the reduction of exorbitant waste transportation costs) and the building of a by-pass, he did not know.
Seven out of the nine DA councillors have decided that we cannot allow this situation to continue. We anticipate that Cllrs Willemse and Myers will join hands with the party that voted them into power and this will mean that Knysna Municipality may soon be governed by the ANC. But the truth of the matter, if you look at the facts, is that Knysna Municipality has not been governed by the Democratic Alliance since 6 June 2018.
The Mayor himself has responded in detail to Wasserman’s press release – see his statement on page 3.