Acting city manager Peter Neilson, who had left the meeting at the time the issue was discussed, said it would be legal for the city to pay the councillors’ legal fees if council approved it. “First of all, it’s not what I think or what anyone thinks.
“There’s only one way that you can pay legal fees and that is through a Section 109, which basically requests council to pay for legal fees,” he said.
Neilson said the Jacob Zuma cases indicated clearly how political office-bearers could get the state to pay their legal bills.
“That can only be done through a Section 109 to council, with motivations and a full council agreement.
“It doesn’t matter what is minuted in a mayoral discussion, it requires a Section 109 by council,” Neilson said.
“Irrespective of what was resolved by mayco [mayoral committee], there’s a legislative requirement in terms of the contribution towards legal fees.
“It is set out in a judgment and in law that requires a Section 109 application.”
Neilson said should council approve the move, a process would then follow which would involve the city’s panel of attorneys.
“If council resolves, then there is legally nothing wrong. It’s a competence of the speaker to put it together.”
Asked if residents would be expected to foot the legal bills for Lungisa and ANC councillor Bongo Nombiba, who have been embroiled in legal cases, Neilson said: “That’s a difficult question, I have not seen a Section 109 application for council to consider payment of [their] legal fees.
“[The Section 109 request] is a political sponsor from the speaker and council would have to make budget available.
“Section 109 is a difficult thing to grant – there’s a judgment and it is very applicable.
“Because it’s an unknown, you’re committing the public to an unknown value – it’s a very difficult approval and that’s why there’s a very tight process to follow,” he said.
When asked for comment, mayor Mongameli Bobani said: “The statement you received from the acting city manager is enough on behalf of the city, no further comment.”
DA councillor Nqaba Bhanga said he was shocked when he heard about the possibility. “I cannot believe this, really I cannot – it’s a criminal offence. They must just try it – they are going to pay for this.
“These people have a disregard of the laws of the Republic of South Africa.
“They think they can use the public purse as they wish.
“I have never heard in South African law that the state pays for people who are fighting battles with their parties.
“They have crossed the line – not only the line, they have crossed the Red Sea.”
Bhanga said if council approved the payment of the costs the DA would challenge it and then take it to the public protector.