TAKE a look at the behaviour of a bunch of politicians in the Northern Cape, and you can see how even the remotest parts of South Africa suffer from people who put selfish party interests above serving the people.

Earlier this year operations of the NamaKhoiMunicipality (sometimes written as Namakhoi), based in Namakwa Street, Springbok, were paralysed when the entire body of local ANC councillors deliberately stayed away from several consecutive meetings. They subsequently put up excuses for their action that, frankly, insult the intelligence of local people whose service delivery was compromised by the councillors’ actions.

The boycott of meetings continued even though – or perhaps precisely because – the municipal budget could not be finalised, all further expenditure would be unauthorised and no municipal money could thus be spent.

The conflict began after the 2011 elections when the DA and Cope formed a coalition with one seat more than the ANC. The DA then lost one councillor to the ANC, leaving eight seats on either side. Though the Speaker would have a casting vote at a tie municipal meetings first needed to be quorate with a minimum of nine people present.

Then the ANC stayed away en bloc from three consecutive municipal meetings, on March 26 and 28 and on April 25.

Both sides agree that the meetings were properly called and that everyone knew about them. The absent councillors however said they were ‘busy with door to door election campaigning’. The coalition’s view on the other hand was that the ANC absence was deliberate and ‘intended to render the municipality dysfunctional’. This was because the 2013/2014 budget, which should have been tabled by the mayor before 31 March 2013, at least 90 days before the start of the financial year, was aborted as there was no quorum to deal with it. Thus all expenditure was or would become unauthorised, and the municipality was effectively paralysed.

When the stalemate went to court soon afterwards the coalition claimed that the political infighting between the two sides meant that ‘service delivery and good governance are being sacrificed at the altar of political expediency’.

At least three judges in the high court, Kimberley, have had to deal with aspects of the dispute, culminating in one of the most extraordinary orders I’ve read.

Both sides were forbidden to call or cancel any meetings except for the one arranged on June 27, which the court recognised as an official gathering to deal with the budget – and to inaugurate a new ANC councillor, elected in May.

The court ordered all councillors to attend this meeting. But it also had to ensure that coalition members stayed on after the budget was passed, rather than walking out to prevent the inauguration of the new councillor and the resulting change in the council’s balance of power.

To guarantee that both sides attended and voted on both agenda items, the court ordered that all councillors had to attend the meeting and they all had to ‘remain in attendance thereat until’ both the budget was passed and the councillor inaugurated.

No one was allowed to postpone the meeting and the meeting was not allowed to end before both issues were finalised.

But even this didn’t end the conflict. The coalition had earlier given the absent ANC councillors notice that their salaries were in jeopardy because they were not attending meetings. The decision to stop the salaries was, however, set aside by the MEC who insisted they get their money. This and other similar actions led the coalition to ask that the court sanction the MEC for interfering in local issues by trying to ensure that the ANC took over the municipality.

The court refused to do so saying further legal action by the coalition simply ‘anticipates the inevitable’, trying to prevent a no confidence motion by the newly-constituted council against the coalition executive followed by wholesale replacement with ANC members. ‘This is how democracy works,’ commented the judge.

He said he didn’t need to decide whether the ANC councillors should have been sacked for not attending meetings, but added, ‘However, I would be failing in my duty if I did not point out that it is the height of irresponsibility to default on attending a properly scheduled council meeting on the flimsy pretext that they, the ANC councillors, were canvassing for votes.’

So there you have it: months of stalemate to the detriment of residents and the penalty is a tiny tickle on the knuckles.

Nama Khoi Municipality v MEC Northern Cape