The continued dispute between the DA in Tshwane and ANC government in Gauteng seems set to escalate as the Office of the State Attorney has threatened to lodge a formal complaint over a WhatsApp informing councillors to prepare for the resumption of council being circulated among councillors.
The ANC and provincial government are hinting the DA has improper information related to its court case and their fight has spilled over to include the judiciary.
This is on the back of numerous court applications challenging the High Court outcomes overturning the dissolution of the Tshwane council by the provincial government.
In a letter, which News24 has seen, from the Office of the State Attorney to Minde Schapiro and Smith, which represents the DA, two concerns are raised over suggestions the DA seemed to know pre-emptively what the judgment would be and when it would be handed down.
The DA asked the High Court to use Rule 18(3) to have the judgment, which found the dissolution of council was both invalid and unconstitutional, executed immediately.
This would mean the immediate resumption of the council, the election of a new mayor and passing of the municipality’s adjustment budget.
“Our clients are concerned about the contents of the WhatsApp. First, the message suggests that your clients are aware that judgment will be delivered very soon, which is information unknown to our clients. Second, the WhatsApp creates the impression that your clients know the outcome already,” the State attorney wrote.
It also requested an explanation over claims the DA’s chief whip also called the administrators to schedule a council sitting.
“Given that judgment is still awaited, this conduct amounts to interference with the administration of justice.”
While an instruction to lodge a formal complaint had been received from the provincial government, the State attorney wanted to give the DA an opportunity to explain first.
The ANC in Tshwane, which released a statement expressing concern over the matter, claims its councillors were in the dark about the WhatsApp from DA chair of chairs Gert Pretorius.
Its caucus leader and regional chairperson, Dr Kgosi Maepa, called on the Office of the Chief Justice to undertake a full-scale investigation into the claims.
“The ANC greater Tshwane region remains deeply concerned about this development as it infringes greatly on the independence of the judiciary,” said Maepa.
He added the ANC in the capital city would furnish Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s office with evidence in this regard.
Maepa told News24 the region wanted to wait on the State attorney’s efforts and to obtain legal counsel before approaching Mogoeng’s office.
In the same breadth, he used the statement to address transformation of the judiciary, calling on the National Assembly to hasten laws that would bring necessary reforms to “get rid of the rot which is largely associated with the erstwhile apartheid clandestine operations”.
“South Africans go to court as a last resort to resolve issues that affect their lives, we wonder what happens to ordinary people in our courts on a daily basis, if this can be done to their own government,” said Maepa.
The provincial government and EFF have both approached the Constitutional Court to challenge the High Court judgment.
In March, the provincial government, with the support of the National Council of Provinces, invoked Section 139(1)(c) of the Constitution when it placed the metro under administration, meaning it needed to hold fresh elections within 90 days.
The Gauteng government is now hoping the Constitutional Court would give clarity on issues of executive obligation and proportionality, while the EFF said it believed the High Court misinterpreted in its findings and also raised concerns over the implications of the judgment on councillors who decided to walk out of sittings as a form of protest.
Pretorius told News24 claims the DA had been armed with knowledge prior to the High Court making its judgment was laughable.
The WhatsApp from him warns of the limited time the council would have to hold its first sitting and pass the budget.
He encouraged portfolio chairs and councillors to familiarise themselves with the Microsoft Teams programme to ensure successful virtual messages.
Pretorius said in consultation with other whips, they wanted to arrange for a Teams meeting test process urgently.
He said the whippery had agreed to prepare councillors in case the courts ruled in the DA’s favour.
“There is nothing sinister going on. It was an open WhatsApp to portfolio committees,” Pretorius told News24.
The Constitutional Court has noted the case will be heard in September.