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DA stymied by Bay coalition stalemate

[caption id="attachment_221488" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Former Nelson Mandela Bay deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani
Picture: Eugene Coetzee[/caption]

Hugh Masekela says something hilarious in the documentary film, Amandla. The fondness for song in African life, Masekela narrates, sometimes borders on obsession.

He makes an example of African warriors – they sang even when they could just have attacked and taken their enemies by surprise.

“That’s how we lost to the British invaders,” Bro’ Hugh concludes, cracking himself up with laughter in the process.

The row that erupted at Nelson Mandela Bay Metro towards the end of last month reminded me of Bro’ Hugh’s humorous comments.

In their August 24 session, the council voted out Mongameli Bobani as deputy mayor, but those proceedings were far from normal.

The voting happened with members of four other parties singing and walking out of the chamber. They complained the motion of no confidence in Bobani, a local leader of the UDM, had not been part of the agenda. Rather, it was sprung upon council.

Their walkout was both a protest and an attempt to block the vote.

Jonathan Lawack, the speaker, however, insists the motion was passed procedurally. Because the protesters were “busy” singing, they hadn’t walked out quickly enough to deny the meeting a quorum.

Rather than storm out of the chamber, the protesting parties, including the ANC and EFF, had chosen to first sing and dance.

Lawack was then quick to initiate the process of ejecting Bobani from office.

On the same day, Lawack wrote to the city manager, Johan Mettler, instructing him to “please attend to all operational matters” related to Bobani vacating his office.

Mettler was similarly quick to respond. Just after 8o’clock the following morning, he informed Bobani that his salary, benefits and allowances, official transport and security detail had all been “discontinued with effect 23h59 on 24 August 2017”.

Bobani was given until “16h00 on Monday” to vacate his office, effectively giving him the weekend to pack up his stuff.

Bobani is challenging his dismissal in court. It was unprocedural, he protests.

His argument is that the council was not quorate nor was the motion tabled properly. The court will soon hear the case, and may well rule that Bobani be returned to the position of deputy mayor.

But that will not remedy the problems in the metro’s council. What NMBM faces is both a personality and political problem.

Bobani is troublesome. He says one thing, but does something else altogether.

Consider his role, for instance, in the matter of the resignation of Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela as city manager in 2013.

Msengana-Ndlela had been head-hunted to fill a role that had been vacant for almost four years. Securing her for the position was a feat that was applauded by everyone, including Bobani, who had been part of the panel that interviewed her.

She has a PhD in local development and had previously headed provincial and national departments of local government.

Msengana-Ndlela was perfect for Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

Bobani agreed – but only temporarily.

Hardly three months into the job, Msengana-Ndlela was threatened with legal action by Bobani. He claimed she was not properly qualified.

What Msengana-Ndlela didn’t have was some obscure certificate that someone with her qualifications and experience did not need to prove her competence.

In this specious legal bid, Bobani had the support of the ANC – the same party that enticed Msengana-Ndlela to the metro.

But, in fact, the attack on Msengana-Ndlela had nothing to do with her qualifications and everything to do with her decision to cancel an improper contract and her refusal to hire people that the metro did not need nor had budgeted for.

The point of Bobani’s legal action, in cahoots with the ANC, was to harass Msengana-Ndlela into resigning. And they even threatened her with violence.

Just six months into the job she left, after which she successfully sued the metro for constructive dismissal. The lawyers of the municipality never even challenged her testimony, but wasted the court’s time when they could simply have settled.

Earlier this year, Bobani attempted to make similar moves against the current city manager, Mettler.

He wanted Mettler fired and his competitor for the post, Vuyo Mlokoti, to be appointed instead.

Mlokoti had been interviewed for the post and was considered the best candidate. But Athol Trollip, the mayor, reversed the decision to offer Mlokoti the job after finding out that Mlokoti had not disclosed all the information related to his departure from his previous employment.

Mlokoti took the mayor to court, but has just lost the case. The court vindicated Trollip’s decision.

Bobani’s open challenge of the leader of the DA in council, with whom the UDM forms the official coalition, was a clear indication that their partnership would be problematic.

He sided with the ANC, threatening to collapse the coalition government. All of this started about three months into the coalition government taking office after last year’s August local elections.

Bobani counters that the fault is not his alone. Trollip, he complains, is a “bully” and “runs the municipality like a farm”. He doesn’t consult, as is required by the “co-governance agreement”, signed by the coalition partners.

The agreement also urges the partners to acknowledge and credit coalition partners for whatever good achievements they may make, something that Trollip apparently does not do.

Bantu Holomisa, the UDM president, has accused Trollip of unfairly taking all the credit for everything the coalition government has done in the past year.

Holomisa’s gripe is not unjustified. The DA cannot achieve anything in NMBM without its coalition partners. If there’s any credit or blame, it should go to all the partners.

But, that’s just an ideal. Realistically, it’s a lot more difficult to put into practice. Political parties don’t do humility easily. This is even more difficult for the DA, which is the largest party and aspires to become the majority in the metro.

Whether the DA manages to get majority support in the 2021 local elections will depend on how well it distinguishes itself in the current term – not only from how the ANC governed previously, but also from the performance of its current coalition partners.

Whilst the DA might not say it publicly, the party wants to impress even the supporters of the coalition partners so that they will vote for the DA.

The party’s objective, therefore, is to take as much credit as possible, starving the other coalition partners in order to outshine them and woo their supporters.

That’s how the party has succeeded in becoming the majority party in some of the hung councils since 2000.

We’ve had about 124 such councils, mostly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. Today the DA controls most municipalities in the Western Cape.

While trying to outmanoeuvre its partners in NMBM, the DA has, however, reached a stalemate. It only has 60 votes, which means it lacks a majority in the 120-seat council. Trollip cannot pass motions such as approving the financial allocation necessary to prepare for hosting the Ironman Championship scheduled for next year.

This is an ideal crisis for the EFF. It holds six seats which, together with the DA’s 57, makes an easy majority of 63 seats. Julius Malema’s party can trade its votes for significant concessions towards the 36% unemployed and landless residents.

The question the EFF needs to ask itself is whether its priority is to grow its lowly 5% support base by plunging the metro into crisis, or whether it is delivery to its constituency.

  • Mcebisi Ndletyana is an associate professor of politics at the University Johannesburg. This article first appeared in the Daily Dispatch on 14/09/17.