Durban’s EThekwini Municipality Council Speaker, William Mapena, has been accused of again refusing to allow a motion expressing support for the LGBTI community to be debated.
On Wednesday, Mapena (ANC) told the DA that the motion proposed by its councilors, Martin Meyer and Caelee Laing, would not be put on the agenda or debated by the council.
The proposed motion notes that “24 years into our democracy the LGBTI+ community still face many challenges in our city.” It then calls on the Executive Committee to investigate that “a formal engagement shall be hosted by the municipality with relevant stakeholders of the LGBTI+ community in eThekwini focusing on challenges and needs of the LGBTI+ community of this city.”
The reason given by Mapena for its rejection was that the proposal was not sent to a specific council subcommittee as required. Meyer disagrees. “My motion very clearly stated that it must go to the Executive Committee, which is the highest committee in council, so you can refer it to any of the 5 sub-committees or you can refer to the executive. His reason makes absolutely no sense.”
In June, Mapena also blocked a motion by Meyer ahead of Durban Pride. That motion called on the city to recognise Pride Month, to fly the Pride flag outside City Hall and to engage in a programme of sensitivity training with the Metro Police on LGBTI matters.
Mapena’s reason for rejecting that motion, according to Meyer, was because it was not a local government matter and should thus not be debated in council. A defiant Meyer nevertheless arranged to raise the rainbow flag outside City Hall at a public ceremony but was forced to remove it by security staff.
“After the previous motion was also not allowed, it became clear to us that the city seems to have a lack of understanding about the needs of the LGBTI community and the challenges we face. So with this motion we wanted to try and initiate a dialogue between the city and the LGBTI community,” Meyer told Mambaonline.
When asked if he thought that the motions had been blocked because they’d been proposed by DA councilors, Meyer said that while the ANC regularly voted down DA motions, they often allowed them to at least be debated.
The City of EThekwini has a history of being unsupportive of the LGBTI community. In 2014, the council also refused to offer its backing for Durban Pride and when Meyer tried to address members on the issue, he was heckled and subjected to homophobic gestures and comments.
Nonhlanhla Mkhize, Durban Pride organiser and Director of the Durban LGBT Community and Health Centre, said that the situation was an unfortunate one. She explained that in her experience dealing with the city, it only appeared to be willing to engage with the LGBTI community when it came to HIV related matters.
“In organising Durban Pride we say, ‘Look, it’s about showcasing Durban. It’s about bringing business to Durban, it’s about growing the economy, but there’s no support [from municipality],’ there’s no excitement, or wanting to meet each other halfway,” she said.
According to Mkhize, when it comes to HIV, the city sings a “different tune”, but it won’t engage with the community in other aspects of life. She said this reflects a culture of only seeing LGBTI people as being “diseased”. Mkhize added that it’s vital that LGBTI civil society meet with the city to address these concerns.
Meyer has written to the speaker to object to the rejection of the motion. “We will continue to try to get these matters onto the agenda and get the city to at least acknowledge that the LGBTI community is part of the city,” he said. Meyer also called on the public to write to Mapena (William.Mapena@durban.gov.za) expressing their views on the matter.