Mongameli Bobani becomes Nelson Mandela Bay’s new mayor
A new Nelson Mandela Bay coalition government was elected on Monday night as opposition parties, with the help of DA councillor Mbulelo Manyati, booted out mayor Athol Trollip.
While the parties – the ANC, EFF, UDM, AIC and United Front (UF) – celebrated the election of new mayor Mongameli Bobani, the DA has refused to accept the outcome of the meeting, saying it was not legally constituted.
DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga said they would pursue all avenues to challenge what transpired at the council meeting, which took a dramatic turn earlier in the day when speaker Jonathan Lawack was ousted first.
“We are not the former government – that meeting was illegal, there was no city manager, there was no secretariat, that thing was a mock,” Bhanga said.
“Perhaps they were practising how to be government because the municipal manager was not there.”
Meanwhile, the opposition councillors and Manyati elected the AIC’s Thsonono Buyeye as deputy mayor, the ANC’s Buyelwa Mafaya as speaker and Bicks Ndoni (ANC) as the new chief whip of the council.
Supporters packed Military Road late into the night, blaring music and sounding their hooters to celebrate the removal of Trollip, Lawack and chief whip Werner Senekal.
Inside the chamber, the triumphant councillors danced, clapped and ululated, with former ANC councillor Lawrence Troon bringing bags of KFC for the hungry councillors.
After several failed previous attempts to remove Trollip, Monday’s meeting took a shocking turn when Lawack was removed first by the opposition, with the help of Manyati, who turned on his party and abstained from voting.
This gave the opposition the one-seat edge they needed to break the 60-60 split between the DA, ACDP, COPE and Patriotic Alliance against the ANC, EFF, AIC, UDM and UF.
The DA had hoped to use the speaker’s casting vote to sway the vote in its favour.
But Manyati’s decision to abstain stymied their plan.
His membership was subsequently terminated by the DA, which relied on a clause adopted by its 2018 party congress allowing it to fire any member who publicly states they plan to resign from the party.
Manyati told journalists on camera that he planned to resign as he felt black councillors were ill-treated by the DA.
Though he backtracked later, saying he never said he would resign, the DA’s federal council chair, James Selfe, said in a letter to city manager Johann Mettler that Manyati was no longer a member of the party and thus a vacancy should be declared in the council.
Mettler, upon receiving legal advice, then declared the vacancy and said Manyati was no longer a councillor.
This prompted the DA and its coalition partners COPE, the ACDP and Patriotic Alliance to stage a walkout, hoping to effectively collapse the sitting and leave it without a quorum.
But the opposition – the ANC, EFF, UDM, AIC and UF – were adamant that Mettler was wrong as it was ultimately up to the IEC to declare the vacancy, especially as Manyati planned to fight his dismissal and his lawyer had explained this in a letter to Mettler.
But Mettler declared the meeting unable to proceed with only 60 councillors out of 120, as he believed Manyati was no longer a councillor.
“The issue at stake that I am faced with as accounting officer is whether there is prima facie grounds for me to declare a vacancy,” he said.
“The letter refers to the councillor’s public declaration of [intent to] to resign.”
Manyati responded to Mettler, saying he was disappointed by the way the matter had been handled.
“The DA went out and had their own caucus and they come here and say I must be expelled as a member,” he said.
“I was not taken for disciplinary action – if there is something wrong that I have done I should have been taken for disciplinary action.
“But you [Mettler] allowed that as a fact, it is not a fact.”
Manyati insisted that, as far as he was concerned, he was still a councillor and would stay in the chamber and vote with the other councillors.
But Mettler insisted the parties did not have a quorum.
“In the circumstances, there are only 60 councillors, I am in a very difficult position,” he said. “I must remind you that you do not have a quorum.
“My task is to ensure the meeting is lawful and if I hold the view that the meeting is not lawful I must advise you.”
Mettler then left the council chamber, but said later he had received further legal advice and had thus erred in declaring the vacancy so soon.
He said the council meeting would continue on Monday.
But the opposition parties refused to wait, roping in cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC Fikile Xasa to intervene.
Xasa, who had not spoken to Mettler about what transpired, told The Herald he had “heard the city manager walked out” and would send a senior official, Jenny Roestorf, from his office to preside over the election of a speaker.
Roestorf oversaw Mafaya’s election and was later excused for Mafaya to take over the rest of the meeting.
Bobani, a former deputy mayor under Trollip for a few months before they cut ties, said the first thing on his agenda would be to focus on growing small businesses and to ensure residents received service delivery.
“We will show the DA how it’s done,” he said.
“This is a collective government. There is not going to be a mayor who does whatever they want.
“The mayor is going to consult all the stakeholders because it’s not only the UDM or the EFF or the AIC that is actually in power.”
Bobani said he would also focus on catalytic projects during his tenure as mayor.
“Gone will be the days whereby a person will remain an emerging contractor, they will now be fully fledged contractors,” he said.
Bobani said this new government was for the previously disadvantaged communities.
“I want to thank all the councillors who voted for me and I want to promise residents that we will make sure they get quality service.
“The previously disadvantaged people, this is their time now,” he said, before announcing his mayoral committee.
Manyati is facing charges of colluding with his son and Port Elizabeth doctor Lucky Swartbooi to claim a life insurance policy taken out on a person who was already dead.
Manyati, who was an undertaker at Zincedeni Funeral Services at the time of the alleged fraud in 2014, is charged alongside Sakhumzi Bazi, Phumelela Radu, Swartbooi and his son, Mandisa Sibham.
Bazi is believed to have absconded, while Manyati and the others appeared in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court in May, when their case was postponed to November.