Informal talks and secret meetings have kicked into high gear as political parties in Nelson Mandela Bay prepare for what is expected to be one of the toughest council meetings since the coalition government took over.
At stake is the fate of the two most senior leaders of the municipality – mayor Athol Trollip and his deputy Mongameli Bobani – who are at each other’s throats.
While Trollip said on Tuesday they would table a motion in the council to remove Bobani as deputy mayor, Bobani is said to be lobbying opposition parties to not only reject such a move, but to rather support a bid to remove Trollip as mayor.
Anything could change, however, over the next five days as a meeting between the top leadership of all the coalition partners is tentatively set down for Monday – a day before the council meeting.
The feud between Bobani and Trollip reached tipping point this week when the deputy mayor was ousted as a member of the mayoral committee in charge of the public health portfolio.
This sparked what is believed to be a fresh round of discussions among opposition parties over what to do should the two motions be tabled.
To pass any motion to remove Bobani, the DA – which has 57 out of a total of 120 seats – will need an additional four votes.
Should it have the two seats of its coalition partners COPE and ACDP in the bag, the DA would need the help of other opposition parties for the remaining two seats.
The other seat allocations in the council are: ANC (50), EFF (6), UDM (2), United Front (1), AIC (1) and Patriotic Alliance (1). Asked yesterday if the DA was wooing smaller parties for support to get rid of Bobani, Trollip said it was too early to answer that.
“That is a premature question, and even if I was, it is not a question I would answer as quickly,” he said.
“I made it clear that he has been removed from the mayoral committee.
“Removing him as deputy mayor will be the decision of the council.
“Normal procedures to get a council resolution passed will apply.
“When we bring that motion, we will have to do our necessary work.”
Bobani, meanwhile, declined to comment on whether or not he was lobbying parties to remove Trollip.
However, on the proposed motion to oust him, he said he was confident Trollip would not get a single vote.
“The matters of the coalition are being discussed at a national level,” he said.
UDM president Bantu Holomisa was furious on Tuesday night when news broke of Bobani’s removal from the mayoral committee.
He said the DA had not followed the procedures set out in the coalition agreement to resolve disputes and ignored his request for a meeting with leaders of the coalition partners.
Yesterday, he said there was a proposal for all national party leaders to meet on Monday or Tuesday.
“We asked that Trollip and Bobani prepare to make presentations to all coalition leaders,” Holomisa said.
“Once we hear their presentations, we need to decide on the way forward.
“If there are accusations against our member, they must be discussed by the national leadership.”
He said if Bobani had misused public funds and was charged by the police, they would suspend him.
“Just because they differ in opinion about procedures, you can’t expel a person for that,” Holomisa said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane was campaigning in KwaZulu-Natal and could not be reached for comment.
His spokesman, Mabine Seabe, referred questions to DA federal council chairman James Selfe, who said the leaders would all meet early next week.
“I was speaking to Mr Maimane, but it’s difficult because of bad phone reception,” Selfe said.
“But, previously, [Maimane] was prepared to meet the other parties to find a solution to this matter, but one that does not involve Mr Bobani.”
Bay opposition party insiders, excluding the ANC, said while they were trying their best not to be caught in the middle of the conflict, they would not support a move to oust Bobani as they believed this would destabilise the municipality.
They said while the decision was ultimately in the hands of their national leaders, they were also not convinced that removing Trollip as mayor would be a good move either.
“We have seen how things are going with the coalition – they don’t see eye-toeye,” one councillor said.
“We are not sure if removing Bobani will be a good idea, but we will see how things pan out.
“All these meetings on forming a ‘government of national unity’ are happening,” the councillor said.
Another councillor said the EFF members were ultimately the kingmakers and their decision would play a crucial role in the outcome of either of the two proposed motions.
The EFF councillors, however, would need consent from their national leadership before taking any decision.
EFF provincial spokesman Mgcini Tshwaku said: “We will be able to communicate our stand, through our national leadership, only when we get an official report on the matter.”
A third councillor said they would not support Bobani’s removal as deputy mayor. However, they were happy with the progress under Trollip so far.
Patriotic Alliance councillor Marlon Daniels said his party had never been part of the DA-led coalition and he was thus not in a position to make judgments in favour of either Trollip or Bobani.
“Our interactions with Mr Bobani over the past nine months have not been distasteful and so we will not judge who is right or wrong,” Daniels said.
“There was a meeting with quite a few opposition parties, discussing these things, and there will be a meeting in the next few days to discuss these issues before the next council meeting.
“The only thing we’re disturbed about is that the inner fighting will be to the detriment of the metro.”
The United Front’s Mkhuseli Mtsila said: “What we are interested in is the stability of this metro.
“Bobani and Trollip must behave like men and sort out their issues.
“They cannot hold the service delivery of this municipality to ransom because of their bickering. We don’t want to be involved in that.”
ANC caucus leader Bicks Ndoni said: “I don’t want to speculate on what our position will be at the council meeting next week. A lot can happen between now and Tuesday.” – Additional reporting by Johnnie Isaac