How Trojan horse flipped script
I had never heard the name Mbulelo Manyati until I received a text from an ANC official in Calata House in October last year.
He was moaning that we had covered the fraud case involving ANC councillor Bhongo Nombimba, but ignored one involving DA councillor Manyati who appeared in the same court, on the same day, facing similar charges.
To be fair, at the time we had no knowledge of Manyati’s case until the ANC official tipped us off about it.
Manyati stands accused of colluding with his son and a Port Elizabeth doctor to claim an insurance policy taken out on someone who had already died.
He is due back in court in November.
And so, on Monday, the irony did not escape me when Manyati became the Trojan horse who flipped the script on the DA, effectively opening the door for the ANC to return to power in Mandela Bay – albeit jointly with other parties.
By now you know that Athol Trollip and the coalition government were voted out of power, in absentia, during a dramatic marathon meeting.
The UDM’s Mongameli Bobani was elected as mayor and he subsequently appointed his mayoral committee made up of a cast of characters who could be described as the palatable, the bad and the downright dangerous.
The DA is challenging the legality of the council meeting and its decisions, saying that it was procedurally flawed.
Bear with me, the detail matters here because it will determine the course of things going forward.
Earlier in the day, a motion was tabled by the opposition to remove council speaker Jonathan Lawack (DA).
Manyati abstained from voting, leaving the DA in the minority.
Lawack was then voted out.
As dictated by law, city manager Johann Mettler took charge to preside over the rest of the proceedings.
During a break, Manyati told reporters of his intention to resign from the DA – a cardinal sin interpreted by the party as a compelling basis for the termination of his membership.
When the meeting resumed, the DA told Mettler that Manyati was no longer a member of the party and therefore was no longer a councillor.
Mettler took legal advice from Advocate Albert Beyleveld who initially suggested that at face value the DA’s instant firing of Manyati was potentially sound.
Anticipating that Trollip was next on the chopping block, the DA and its partners walked out.
On this basis, Mettler then declared a vacancy and then adjourned the meeting, stating that there was no quorum.
He asked that the sitting be rescheduled for next week.
And then the wheels came off.
To the opposition, this meant that Mettler had abandoned the sitting.
So they called on “big brother” to step in.
Within hours, the MEC responsible for municipalities Fikile Xasa (ANC) then sent an official to preside over the meeting.
An ANC speaker was elected and the rest is history.
There are a number of important things to chew on here.
First, even if the DA is justified to regard Manyati as a traitor who should be expelled from its ranks, the point is in its desperation on the day it jumped the gun when it declared right there and then that he was no longer a member.
The Western Cape High Court judgment on the precedent-setting Patricia de Lille matter means that even if the DA invokes the cessation clause of its constitution, there was due process that had to be followed when expelling a member.
This did not happen in Manyati’s case. (Beyleveld’s subsequent advice to Mettler upon studying the De Lille judgment also highlighted this.)
This is perhaps why in his press briefing yesterday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party was in the process of terminating Manyati’s membership – a slight backtrack from its initial stance.
Therefore if challenged, Mettler’s handling of the Manyati matter will in all likelihood be found wanting.
But even so, it may have no substantive impact on the events that later unfolded in the meeting.
You see, the law indeed allows Xasa to deploy an official to preside over a council meeting, but only if the city manager is unavailable.
Herein lies the crux of the DA’s legal case.
The party believes that Mettler’s adjournment of the meeting could not be interpreted as his unavailability, nor could it be technically regarded as a refusal to preside over the meeting as the opposition suggested.
On this basis, the DA believes that not only did the MEC err by sending the official, he deliberately abused his power and participated in what the DA termed a wellorchestrated political coup in our city.
Obviously the MEC, the UDM and its partners disagree, saying Xasa had every right to deploy an official, end of story.
This is where the courts will, hopefully, help us.
Their interpretation of the MEC’s actions will ultimately inform us who should legitimately wear that mayoral chain.
But that’s half the story. Of course we cannot predict with certainty what lies ahead in the coming days.
But here’s what we know – there will be no real winners in the unfolding barn fight of madness in which we find ourselves.
•Nwabisa Makunga is the Editor