This week my commitment to fighting corruption was questioned by a prominent Eastern Cape politician.
It stemmed from a headline which detracted from an announcement by mayor Athol Trollip last weekend in which he confirmed the municipality had seized laptops from three public health officials in ongoing efforts to uncover graft.
That announcement was made on Saturday and received a fair amount of attention since the mayor enjoys a healthy social media following.
Enter one Mongameli Bobani the following day with a statement of his own which took aim at Trollip’s management style and included an interesting metaphor about a “disrespected wife”.
As political head of the directorate in question, Bobani was peeved to be out of the loop. Tactical “oversight”, perchance?
Anyway, two issues were at play: Trollip’s press release about the seizures and Bobani’s theatrical missive, which was easy to dismiss as just another rant save for the fact that he is a rather important cog in the DA-led coalition.
He is also the elephant in the room. His antics in council continue to threaten governance in the municipality. In recent months he has taken a contrarian stance on key matters of policy, often going against his allies, on many occasions to the bewilderment of his council partners and the public.
Skin this cat anyway you like but his agitations are putting the coalition at risk. He is openly defiant and constantly challenging the direction of the new administration. Bobani is a brake on progress. He, however, sees himself as the conscience of the coalition, the lone ranger reining in the bombast of the DA, a relentless corruption-buster.
To drive home this narrative, he opened criminal cases against city manager Johann Mettler and acting corporate services executive director Vuyo Zitumane this week, listing alleged improprieties. The pair hit back with some damaging assertions of their own, hinting it is in fact Bobani who has a case or two to answer. Aha! We’re finally getting somewhere.
Earlier this year deputy editor Nwabisa Makunga and political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana carefully planted this seed in two well-articulated columns.
Since then Bobani has ratcheted up his campaign to the extent that we must be close to reaching a tipping point. The union between him and Trollip simply cannot sustain itself in this climate of fear and loathing.
Locally, the DA has been passive on the issue, in public at least, but the party’s federal executive chairman James Selfe this week acknowledged the strained relations with Bobani. UDM leader Bantu Holomisa was less frank, saying the mayor and his deputy were old enough to sort it out.
This points to an evident disconnect between the national leadership where the coalitions were crafted. It is not exactly the well-oiled “mechanisms” Trollip referred to on Tuesday when questioned about Bobani at a press conference the mayor hosted to update Bay residents on three controversial municipal deals.
The irony of the charge against me and The Herald, that we are somehow flimsy on fighting corruption, is that two of those three dodgy contracts were exposed by our reporters.
Don’t believe it will end there, either. Trollip is on the warpath to uncover the BBEM (broad-based economic malfeasance) which characterised the ANC’s 20 years and more in charge of Nelson Mandela Bay.
When he’s done with his digging, and opened his findings to the public, don’t be surprised if the investigations borrowed from the years of muckraking by The Herald and Weekend Post staff.
The corruption story will always be at the heart of what we do. And the coalition affects us all. Until its status changes, it deserves our attention.