Crooked oversight in George municipality results in promotion

Mimmy Gondwe is the new DM of Higher Education. While her academic qualifications are not in question, her track record in local office raises some serious questions

Robert Duigan


Robert Duigan


Jul 8, 2024

Crooked oversight in George municipality results in promotion

Mimmy Gondwe is the new Deputy Minister of Higher Education. While her academic qualifications are not in question, her track record in office raises some serious questions about the promotion mechanisms within the party.

Prior to her promotion, Gondwe was the DA Political Head of George local municipality. The DA functions (perhaps ironically) rather similar to the Soviet Union’s Communist party, in that party apparatchiks will oversee members in office and make sure that their words and actions match the ideology, vested interests and messaging strategy of the party, even if they are not elected themselves.

The style of governance is also particularly rigid - members are subject to ideological exams, and the Federal Executive Committee(ExCo) often directly intervenes to displace local caucuses and remove any local upstarts that might not like the way things are run.

In George, mayor Leon van Wyk remained in office until June 2024, despite objections by the caucus, the regional executive, the provincial executive, the provincial chair, and the provincial leader, because ExCo chair Helen Zille insisted on his appointment – irregular by DA procedure – in 2021. Zille was responsible for the promotion and protection of corrupt leaders elsewhere in the Western Cape too, from Memory Booysen and Eleanor Bouw-Spies in Garden Route to Conrad Poole in Drakenstein, both of whose reward for cooperation during their protection has been promotion to parliament.

Under Van Wyk’s governance of George, the caucus was crippled by factionalism and dissent. Only when the Van Wyk mayoralty became unbearable – as any member willing to speak will say, DA campaigning in George was severely compromised by the public perception of the caucus. As a result, the provincial chair announced the mayor’s early departure, on 6 May, the day of the building collapse.

As this paper has already reported, van Wyk’s particular mistake was admitting that the DA had placed no oversight over building construction anywhere in the Cape. In response, the City has launched punitive actions against a couple of high-profile illegal construction projects, though they ignored the same for Amazon’s offices on Liesbeeck, and continue to assist illegal construction in Wellington as a means for facilitating the rezoning of rural areas for residential development, despite lacking the plans to provide the requisite infrastructure.

The recall of van Wyk was botched, however, as van Wyk was returned to George in the same week of the announcement of his departure. Even the provincial chair was taken aback by Zille’s dictatorial instructions. There is confirmation from three caucus members that the ExCo was aware of a caucus letter in composition demanding permission for a motion of no confidence in Van Wyk, in response to which Zille fixed the process to remove him on 6 May.

When the caucus met with the ExCO chair and the provincial leadership in Cape Town on this matter, councilor Theresa Jeyi told the chair to remove van Wyk, or they would do so themselves.

Speaker Sean Snyman, during the first quarter on this year, compiled an extensive list of probable nonfeasance, misfeasance, and malfeasance by Van Wyk, then MMC Dirk Wessels, and then MM Michelle Gratz, and that he had delivered same on a data stick to the Western Cape provincial minister of local government.

At the same time, the coalition between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) in George was dissolved. DA Western Cape leader Tertuis Simmers confirmed the decision to exit the coalition, citing irreconcilable breaches of trust, but refused to explain further. The decision, communicated via a letter from DA Federal Chair Helen Zille to FF Plus leader Dr Pieter Groenewald, outlined 13 points of concern and included evidence supporting the DA's stance, including voice recordings.

FF Plus deputy leader Gert van Niekerk, whose votes in Garden Route council, where he was deployed before, were in constant loyal lockstep with the DA even on the most iniquitous of matters, expressed shock at the termination. He questioned its validity and emphasised the need for further coalition oversight committee discussions. Despite his absence due to health reasons, Van Niekerk affirmed FF Plus's support for new Mayor Jacqulique von Brandis and dismissed rumors of collusion with the ANC.

The fallout leaves the DA one seat shy of a council majority, with implications for municipal governance dynamics in George and the broader Garden Route District Municipality.

The decision is rumoured to be a punishment from Zille for the VF+'s acceptance of the ANC's supply-and-confidence offer in the Northern Cape, which pipped them to the post, where they hoped to insert their seven seats into the provincial administration.

But this is not the only scandal covered up in George. In April 2022, a young woman of schoolgoing age and her father, reported that George Deputy Mayor Raybin Figland sent the woman explicit personal images and sexual messages on WhatsApp. The matter was reported to the DA leadership structures within days. Nothing happened for 18 months.

On 10 October 2023, the matter was reported to Rapport journalist Bohemia Hoffmeester-Jumatt, who published the story on 15 October. The DA dismissed the story with contempt. But within 14 days of the publication, an FLC delegation arrived in George to investigate the matter. The disciplinary had been concluded on 24 June, yet Figland is still, 27 months after the scandal broke, the deputy executive mayor of George, even despite the man’s widespread reputation as an informer for the PA.

George is also plagued still by several matters relating to waste management and public transport, currently clogging the local legal system. On 6 June, the caucus heard from councillor Jacqulique (Jackie) von Brandis that she had received a letter from the ExCo informing her that she was the successful mayoral candidate. Absent from this caucus meeting were earlier participants – provincial leaders Tertuis Simmers; provincial chair Jaco Londt; regional chair Venolia Fortuin; and DA strongman Anton Bredell.

And of course, no sign of the political head, Mimmy Gondwe. The caucus had no formal notification from the ExCo. This, according to the DA, is a lapse of procedure, is a ball dropped by the regional chair, and Gondwe’s name was specifically mentioned in their public excuses. Currently, the DA Caucus, the regional executive, the provincial executive, and the provincial leadership have been in disarray since 2019, on Gondwe’s watch.

This all raises the question of how Gondwe got shot up to such a comfortable seat in the national executive. Certainly it is not her uprightness nor her competence which is being praised, but her willingness to facilitate Madam Chair’s every whim, no matter how harmful they are to local politics.

Notably, the rock star executive mayor of Cape Town Geordin Hill-Lewis shared the office of political head of George with Mimmy until he was bumped into the metropolitan throne in 2021 – after he severely interfered in a George disciplinary reverberating to this day.

His PR agent is known to be an EFF voter, but has nevertheless worked an excellent job pushing his profile - Hill-Lewis has made some positive turns, but his blind eye on the severe corruption of Malusi Booi, whose ties to the 28s gang were repeatedly reported, to the media and the City and the police, but were only acted on when the police raided his offices. This was known to the department for four years, and has now cost the lives of his colleagues, as the 28s enforce their expectations of special housing contracts.

Then Daylin Mitchell joined Mimmy. He left when he became the speaker of the legislature, though his successes may be more closely related to his family ties to the High Court judge who struck down a motion of no confidence in the DA’s governance in Beaufort-Wes back in 2018. The Figland scandal broke (silently; unnoticed) on his joint watch, without alarm. And so only Mimmy remained.

On 25 March, John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille wrote in DA News: “Through the party’s Candidate Selection Programme, conceived and executed by the DA’s Federal Council Chairperson, Helen Zille, our party has sought the very best and brightest individuals South Africa has to offer, and put them through their paces on a number of different metrics. Guided by the DA’s values and principles of freedom, fairness, opportunity, and diversity, and our belief in a meritocratic system of appointment…”

Perhaps the ANC have a point when they say that cadre deployment is a universal feature of our political landscape. But if these truly are the best candidates they have, it strikes me as a frighteningly dismal indictment on the quality of our leadership.

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