Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay
The DA and its coalition partners miscalculated, blundered and must suffer the consequences of their decision, advocate Dali Mpofu argued in the much-anticipated court case over who is the rightful leadership of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.
On the other hand, advocate Olav Harald Ronaasen, representing the DA and its coalition partners COPE and the ACDP, put forward a case that city manager Johann Mettler had declared a vacancy in the council after the DA wrote to him saying councillor Mbulelo Manyati’s membership of the party was terminated.
This was what had prompted his clients to walk out of the chambers and leave the meeting with what they believed was not a quorum.
These were some of the arguments thrashed out in the Port Elizabeth High Court, which was packed to capacity, on Thursday. The benches were so full that in the first half of proceedings, more than 20 people – including politicians, supporters and members of the legal teams – had to stand.
Supporters of the various parties lined Bird Street, singing and dancing.
A jovial mayor Mongameli Bobani sat snug alongside the media and chief whip Bicks Ndoni, while former mayor Athol Trollip was seated further at the back.
Before the proceedings kicked off, Trollip and DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga shared a light moment with ANC councillor Andile Lungisa.
In a surprise move earlier in the morning, the Patriotic Alliance pulled its support from the DA and its coalition partners in the court application.
In a bombshell statement, PA councillor and national chair Marlon Daniels said he initially supported the DA and others’ bid to challenge the removal of Trollip as mayor and the election of a new government, but had subsequently had a change of heart.
“In our analysis, the motion of no confidence played out in an unfortunate manner, particularly for the DA, but we no longer feel there is a strong enough basis to challenge it, either in law or from a political perspective,” he said.
“The new coalition government under mayor Mongameli Bobani is now in power and needs to be given a chance to prove itself.
“What has particularly left a bad taste in the mouth is the comments of some politicians and residents in the metro in reaction to mayor Bobani taking over that can’t be described as normal critique.
“It has racist overtones and suggests the view that black people can’t govern. As the PA, we reject this, ” Daniels said.
It could be a relatively long while before residents know who the rightful leadership of the council is as acting judge Johann Huisamen reserved his judgment.
No date was given.
During the court arguments, a confident and buoyant Mpofu lambasted Mettler and questioned the version of availability as stated in Trollip’s affidavit.
After declaring Manyati’s vacancy, Mettler said there was no longer a quorum and left the council chamber.
“What is clear is that Mettler voluntarily absented himself from a meeting that [was] quorate. He did not go there to chair the meeting even after he was advised.
“He knew there’s no vacancy, that there was a meeting.
“We agree that he was in his office but he was meant to be available to chair the meeting.”
Mpofu said Ndoni supplied an affidavit that Mettler refused to go and chair the meeting.
“All what happened was a simple miscalculation of leaving a quorate meeting.
“They [DA and partners] banked on Manyati leaving with them. They should have begged Manyati to come with them or take him out,” he said.
Ronaasen maintained that Mettler was available to chair the meeting but that no-one had made contact with him, including co-operative governance MEC Fikile Xasa.
“At the end of the day, [Mettler] declared no quorum and consequently a meeting was reconvened after the DA walked out.
“How can a meeting suddenly re-exist,” Ronaasen said.
Ronaasen said his clients were not informed of the meeting reconvened by Xasa and that a notice had to be given to all councillors five days prior to the meeting for it to be a properly constituted meeting.
He blasted Xasa and said he did not have precedence to send official Jenny Roestorff to preside over the election of a new speaker.
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing Bobani, Ndoni, speaker Buyelwa Mafaya and deputy mayor Tshonono Buyeye, emphasised that the DA had walked out of the council meeting prematurely and now wanted to be treated with kid gloves.
“The declaration of a vacancy was renounced and this is a contrivance of a political outcome they did not plan for.
“The DA is a political party that decided to walk out of its political duties and when it walked out, it knew the meeting would continue,” he said.
He said the council meeting had a quorum because Manyati was still a member of the DA as there should have been a factual determination of his actions and intentions before any action to kick him out.
Mpofu said: “The DA in its letterhead guarantees fairness.
“They could not even inquire via SMS if Mr Manyati in fact made those remarks [that he planned on resigning from the DA],” Mpofu said.
“Where is the fairness in that? Any politician has the right to walk out of a meeting.
“They are free to employ that tactic. However, they must face the consequences of that action.”
He likened the removal of Trollip to that of former president Jacob Zuma. At the time, the DA urged ANC members to vote with their conscience.
Fast forward to August 2018, the same principles were applied to one of their own.
The outcome of the case will have a bearing on who is in charge of City Hall.
The numbers in the council are, however, skewed towards the ANC, UDM, AIC, EFF and United Front with a total of 60 seats out of 120.
The DA and its partners have 58 seats after two councillors resigned.