Speaker William Mapena
Durban’s EThekwini Municipality Council Speaker, William Mapena, has for the third time refused to allow LGBTI issues to be discussed in council, reportedly calling these “special rights.”
Last month, Mapena (ANC) told DA councilors Martin Meyer and Caelee Laing that their proposed motion would not be put on the agenda or debated by the council.
The proposed motion noted that “24 years into our democracy the LGBTI+ community still face many challenges in our city.” It then called on the Executive Committee to investigate “a formal engagement… 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.”
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 told Mambaonline that the motions had been refused because they were submitted unprocedurally. “To be specific, the first motion was not referring to a committee or requesting investigation but was instructing council to do something and the second motion was only referring to committee and not reporting back to council. Therefore in both instances it was in violation of the rules.”
Councilor Meyer then resubmitted the second motion, but this time referred it to the Community Services Committee. Once again, last week, Mapena rejected the motion for debate along similar lines. A frustrated Meyer described Mapena’s explanation as “absolute nonsense.”
Meyer said that the speaker often rejects motions from the DA but he believes that there is more to this issue than mere party politics. “He has repeatedly refused this LGBTI one with the most ridiculous of reasons. I’ve corrected what he wanted last time. If I can’t send it to the Community Services Committee, who do I send it to?”
MambaOnline asked Mapena if he was not unfairly using his interpretation of the rules in order to stifle attempts to address LGBTI issues and concerns in council. He replied: “I’m responsible for applying the rules and the rules are clear in this regard and for your information Councillor Meyer’s motion is not the only one that was rejected. On a monthly basis I receive various questions and motions and these are processed according to the rules.”
He added: “In accepting or rejecting I don’t look at the subject matter but at the compliance of the rules. I would not like to debate Councillor Meyer’s assertion because as the Speaker that is not my role.”
Matters came to a head on Thursday at a council meeting, which was attended by some members of the LGBTI community to show their solidarity with Meyer. In the portion of the meeting where councillors can request to welcome attendees, Meyer asked that he be allowed to welcome the members of the LGBTI community. Mapena’s alleged response shocked the councillor.
“The speaker made the most bizarre statement,” claims Meyer. “He said that I’m not allowed to welcome LGBTI members or even raise issues about LGBTI people because we are all equal and I’m trying to give LGBTI people special rights and he will not allow me to give LGBTI people special rights.”
The idea that LGBTI human rights are attempts to secure “special rights” has often been used by politicians from anti-LGBTI countries to justify their refusal to support equality for sexual minorities.
Councillor Martin Meyer
MambaOnline asked Mapena to clarify his alleged comment but he refused. “I’m of the view that this matter of [this] councillor is getting out of hand and I would not want to be involved in councillor Meyer’s allegations and therefore I am unable to comment on his allegations.”
Meyer responded: “This would be funny but it’s not a joke – it’s becoming quite a serious situation.” He insisted that as a marginalised community, LGBTI people must be allowed to raise their voice and be able to request that the city addresses their needs and challenges, like any other citizens.
“Going forward I am going to take it up with the MEC for local government affairs in provincial government and I’m going to the Human Rights Commission to also ask them to intervene as we are not allowed to discuss these issues in our council,” said Meyer. “And I will resubmit our motion next month.”