Nwabisa Makunga: Bay’s own game of thrones

Nwabisa Makunga

Like me, you are probably following with interest the feud between the Nelson Mandela Bay deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani and senior manager Vuyo Zitumane. It’s been long coming. In recent months Bobani has made it his sole mission to get Zitumane and city manager Johann Mettler out of the metro.

He has undermined and insulted them at every opportunity. He has told anyone who will listen that they are corrupt and incompetent.

Last week Zitumane hit back with a lawyer’s letter (and subsequently a summons) demanding half a million rand in damages and that Bobani refrain from making defamatory statements against her.

Of course she is not expecting him to pay it.

Her move is not about the money. She doesn’t need it.

She is simply making a point, and an important one at that.

In response, a defiant Bobani called up every journalist in town last week to the Humewood police station to witness him lay corruption charges against Zitumane and Mettler.

The entire affair is typical of Mandela Bay politics.

It is messy, amateurish and ultimately takes the focus away from our more urgent problems, chief among them that we are a city still lingering on the periphery of the South African economy.

Nonetheless, to comprehend the Zitumane and Bobani battle we must understand that it unfolds within an even bigger context of a coalition government that is increasingly volatile – one where every governance decision becomes the subject of a tiresome dispute between Bobani and mayor Athol Trollip.

You might argue of course that such is the nature of coalition governments. Fair enough. My point, however, is that when our streets are filthy, our youth is jobless and crime is rampant, we can ill afford leaders who spend their days playing these games.

As far as the coalition government is concerned, what we know on record is that Bobani feels undermined by Trollip and, by extension, anyone in the leadership who stands in the way of him exercising his power. Thus, he is on a warpath. He is determined to prove that he too was voted into office and that he is not there to play the role of Trollip’s “disrespected wife”, as he curiously put it last week.

“The disrespect ends now,” he said last weekend.

“The bullying ends now and running this municipality like someone’s farm ends now. I have been quiet for far too long,” he said in reference to Trollip.

Municipal deep throats, however, tell a different story. They point to him as the man at the centre of dubious dealings, particularly in public health, the department he leads which has been the subject of investigation in recent weeks.

The suggestion from these insiders is that, Bobani sees Mettler and Zitumane as stumbling blocks to potentially lucrative benefits that would otherwise be available to a man in his position.

Last week, Zitumane made similar disturbing claims, suggesting she was holding on to evidence that she planned to release at an appropriate platform.

She alleged that Bobani had targeted her for refusing his previous instruction to make irregular payments to two companies.

She further claimed that she had refused his instruction to recall two suspended officials who presumably were still facing corruption probes.

(She made other saucy claims about him attempting to avail himself to her, a married woman, inappropriately. Cringe!)

Mettler also appears to share similar views on Bobani.

In a media response to why he too had been targeted, Mettler said: “The citizens of the metro will appreciate that those of us involved in anti-graft work will inevitably be undermined by the beneficiaries of patronage and corruption.”

That this whole saga has spilled over to the police and the courts will hopefully present an opportunity for all these allegations to be tested.

For instance, one of Bobani’s main accusations is that Zitumane’s employment contract with the municipality is illegal and/or corrupt.

To substantiate this, Bobani must prove that the then minister Pravin Gordhan acted illegally (and possibly with corrupt intent) when he brought Zitumane in as an administrator in 2015, under section 154 of the Constitution which makes provision for such assistance to troubled municipalities.

Unfortunately, there is not enough to space to detail all the corruption allegations Bobani has listed against these two.

Suffice to say that even in instances where there are questionable contracts in place, he might find it difficult to prove that those were as a result of illegal and corrupt intent on the part of Zitumane or Mettler.

Zitumane’s defamation case, however, is not as complex. She has to prove that he publicly and intentionally made claims that he knew would harm her reputation.

It’s all there.

Thereafter the onus rests on him to defend himself by, among others, proving his statements are substantially true and in the public interest. Again, this may be tricky. And she knows it. This is precisely why she wont let it go.

Here’s the thing about Zitumane: she is smart and shrewd.

In a sea of municipal incompetence and corruption in this province, she has built a solid reputation as a business woman and civil servant whose work is synonymous with clean governance and efficiency.

You are of course welcome to debate her credentials and performance in the different roles she has worked in at municipalities across the Eastern Cape.

My point is that she will not be bullied by a man high on new power. She will not roll over and play dead.

Whatever happens in the weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly have far reaching outcomes for our metro.

At the very least we should know soon enough if our deputy mayor is indeed a corruption-buster taking on a rotten establishment or just another rogue trying to cover his tracks.

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