Turncoats rip into DA coalition
Two more councillors turn backs on party to help new council push through motions against Trollip and Mettler
The DA was dealt a massive blow on Friday when another two of its councillors turned on the party, siding with its opponents to hold a Nelson Mandela Bay council meeting.
The Ward 35 and 37 councillors – Trevor Louw and Neville Higgins, respectively – helped the UDM, ANC, AIC, United Front and EFF to push through a motion to discipline former mayor Athol Trollip and place city manager Johann Mettler on precautionary suspension.
The two councillors gave the parties the numbers needed to reach a quorum and continue with the council meeting.
The rest of the DA caucus did not pitch, along with coalition partners COPE, ACDP and Patriotic Alliance, as they believe that the current coalition government is illegitimate.
They are pinning their hopes on the high court overturning the council meeting on Monday last week that removed Trollip as mayor and elected a new government.
Meanwhile, at Friday’s council meeting, the parties agreed to:
● Issue Mettler with a notice of intention to suspend him. He has seven days to explain why he should not be suspended following claims of misconduct against him;
● Institute disciplinary action against Trollip for what they termed “leaking” of a confidential municipal report to DA leader Mmusi Maimane;
● Probe the circumstances surrounding the accident involving DA councillor Nqaba Bhanga’s bodyguard; and
● Cut ties with two labour broker companies and insource 38 call centre agents and two cleaners by October.
The council agreed, behind closed doors, to investigate claims brought forward by new mayor Mongameli Bobani against Mettler.
The city boss has seven days to explain why he should not be suspended. Chief operating officer Mzwake Clay will be acting city manager in the interim.
Bobani’s accusations against Mettler range from claims that he unlawfully extended the contract of communications firm Mohlaleng Media, to allegations that he irregularly hired and suspended senior staff and misappropriated municipal funds on the city’s new accounting system.
Mettler declined to comment, only saying: “I cannot comment as the notice has not been handed to me.”
While Bobani remained tightlipped on Mettler’s suspension, at least six council insiders confirmed that Mettler would be placed on precautionary suspension.
Also in the confidential section of the meeting, the items recommending the appointment of a chief financial officer and executive director of public health were withdrawn by Bobani.
The council meeting started off on a dramatic note earlier in the day when DA councillor Rano Kayser turned up holding a resignation letter – purportedly given to him by Louw.
But Louw claimed it was forcefully taken from his bag by DA supporters who had “grabbed” his bag. During the scuffle, his shirt was torn, he said. He did not, however, deny writing the letter.
Louw said: “This letter was forcefully taken from me by DA members outside. I had no intention of submitting it but my bag was taken.”
Speaker Buyelwa Mafaya refused to acknowledge the letter, saying Louw had not handed over the letter himself. She ordered that the allegations that the letter was forcefully taken from him be investigated.
She declared the resignation letter null and void.
Attempts to reach Louw were unsuccessful, while Higgins said he had decided to turn on the DA because he was unhappy with its leadership.
Higgins claimed the party had forced him to resign from his job at Sassa in 2016, only for him to discover that other, white, DA councillors had other full-time jobs.
“I have asked my chief whip several times to release me or shift me to administration because I have lost interest in politics – his sarcastic answer was they don’t give jobs to pals,” Higgins said.
He said he had notified the DA caucus and residents in his ward that he would not finish his term as ward councillor.
He said he would tender his resignation to Mafaya at a later stage, adding that he had secured a full-time job.
The move by the two councillors comes less than two weeks after former DA councillor Mbulelo Manyati blindsided the party by siding with its opponents to remove Jonathan Lawack as speaker.
He later voted with them to elect Bobani as mayor, Mafaya as speaker, Thsonono Buyeye as deputy mayor and Bicks Ndoni as chief whip.
Manyati was subsequently fired by the DA and replaced by Lutho Sokudela. He is challenging his dismissal.
DA Eastern Cape leader Nqaba Bhanga said the party would act swiftly against the two councillors.
“It is not clear what inducement was offered to these misguided councillors, but they decided to betray the residents of the city,” he said.
“It boggles the mind that these councillors see fit to side with the ANC after a highranking ANC leader allegedly referred to coloured citizens in Cape Town as dogs.”
He was referring to an alleged slur by Western Cape ANC chair Khaya Magaxa.
“It must be underlined that any decisions taken at today’s illegal council meeting will be declared null and void after the legitimate NMB coalition government next week emerges victorious in the Port Elizabeth High Court,” Bhanga said.
The DA is hoping for a decision by Thursday next week.
Bhanga confirmed he had received Louw’s resignation and was yet to receive a resignation letter from Higgins.
The decision by Higgins and Louw to split from the DA leaves the party with considerably less power.
It means the DA now has 55 councillors. With its coalition partners COPE, ACDP and Patriotic Alliance, the parties have a combined 58 seats in council.
The ANC, UDM, EFF, AIC and United Front have a combined 60 seats.
To hold a meeting, there has to be 61 councillors in the chamber, which is the majority out of a council of 120 seats.
Because Louw and Higgins were ward councillors, the DA cannot simply replace them.
A by-election would have to be held within three months, which means the scales will remain tipped in favour of the current coalition in the interim.
However, it would not be able to hold a future council meeting without at least the support of a DA, COPE, ACDP or Patriotic Alliance councillor.