Mcebisi Ndletyana: Bobani's election in NMB a revival of the old morally inept ANC

Let’s get this straight: none of the political parties in the Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) Metropolitan Municipality is entitled to be in the metro government.

They all fall below the 51% majority that is required of a party to form the metro government. But any of them – including the Patriotic Alliance, which received about 1 000 votes, or the United Front with its 3 000 votes – is entitled to be part of the metro government if their negligible support helps to create a coalition of 51%. That is the law. It is in keeping with what the writers of the Constitution intended: to have an all-inclusive government, including the most insignificant of parties. They still matter, even in their littleness.

What counts even more, however, is how and with whom one gets into a coalition. That is where the problem lies for both the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the metro. A man of questionable character, DA councillor Victor Manyathi, catapulted them back into the metro-government.

Manyathi abstained from voting on a motion of no confidence in his own DA speaker and mayor. This gave the ANC and its allies, the so-called black caucus, one more vote – 60 – over the 59 votes for the DA and its allies.

Manyathi has problems with the law. While he still owned a funeral parlour, he faked a death certificate in order to claim life insurance. He has appeared in court and returns there in November. Manyathi says he brought down his own party because it is racist.

The DA does have a racism problem. It has expelled or suspended its own leaders over racism. Was this sufficient reason, though, to warrant complicity in ousting his own party out of government? I doubt it.

Manyathi knew of the DA racism when he joined the party. It could not have come as a shock. The party is still contested, but Athol Trollip took a deliberate decision to turn it black, especially in the Eastern Cape. That is why, when he was NMB mayor, Trollip never fired black managers or the spokesperson, all of whom were appointed by the ANC. Nqaba Bhanga, an African man, leads the province.

The future of the DA lies in the townships. It is in the party’s interest to endear itself to blacks.

Manyathi’s present circumstances make it difficult to trust him. He faces expulsion from the DA if found guilty, and has a growing legal bill to settle. Someone in Manyathi’s position is vulnerable to offers of financial assistance in exchange for favours. I just don’t believe that he would risk being one of the least liked people in Port Elizabeth for no benefit to himself. Politicians, especially of Manyathi’s ilk – who seem to like money – don’t do things for free. I doubt that anyone out there believes him either.

So, if everyone believes that Manyathi is a mercenary, then who paid him? Speculation is likely to fall on the ANC. It benefited most from the fall of the DA coalition. Of the 15 leadership posts in council, the ANC got 12. Social media is already awash with reports that Manyathi was given R2m. This may well be false, but Manyathi’s reputation suggests that this is “how he rolls”. Nor can one put it past the ANC to pay him. It has done worse than pay off people; it almost bankrupted the municipality.

ANC leaders may have returned to the city-government, but that does not solve the party’s fundamental problem: lack of credibility. The problem gets even bigger when considering who the mayor is: Mongameli Bobani.

Just like Manyathi, Bobani has character and behavioural problems. He just does not think that his behaviour has to conform to the decorum of council. Rowdiness comes easily to him and the presence of cameras simply spurs him on. His theatrics have been a regular feature in the NMB council for the past year or two. You would have thought that there was a prize at stake. He has been simply unhinged. Now he is the first citizen of the metro.

Bobani’s ill-mannered nature is not my worry; it is his moral character that I find troublesome. I am not referring to the investigation that was done by audit firm PwC. That probe apparently looked into allegations that Bobani received kickbacks from a company contracted by his department while he was responsible for the health portfolio, and that he provided employment to his supporters under the guise of a public works programme. However, the investigation does not seem to have uncovered anything conclusive, which possibly explains why the DA has not instituted any legal action against Bobani.

What really worries me about Bobani is his role in hounding out Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela from her job as municipal manager in 2013. An academic with extensive managerial experience in government, Msengana-Ndlela had been headhunted by the NMB to fill the post. The metro had gone for about four years without a permanent manager. The result was a shambolic administration, which showed in poor service delivery. Msengana-Ndlela’s appointment came as a relief, but she lasted only about three months.

Bobani led the crusade that resulted in her resignation. He accused Msengana-Ndlela of being unqualified. She did not have some obscure certificate, which had been introduced to ensure that managers had the requisite level of competence. Her experience, however, which included heading departments at both provincial and national level, exempted her.

Treasury issued her with that exemption. But Bobani applied to the courts for her suspension, which rightly failed. Bobani’s legal challenge was a farce. He was part of the panel that had interviewed and approved Msengana-Ndlela’s appointment. Had he been genuinely concerned that she was qualified, he would have raised his objection at the interview. He never did, but instead, showered her with praise. The real reason Bobani was harassing Msengana-Ndlela was that she wanted to cancel a dubious contract, which had to do with the introduction of public transportation.

Substantial amounts of money intended for that initiative had already been siphoned off. In his forensic investigation, former national director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli identified the culprits, but the ANC was not keen to prosecute or recover the money. So, Msengana-Ndlela’s fault was in attempting to stop the looting.

If Bobani was really about proper government, why did he lead the offensive against a conscientious public servant? In doing so, Bobani also incurred an exorbitant legal bill. He could not have afforded it on his salary. How did he settle it? Did he get help from those who had looted funds intended for public transportation?

Bobani’s election smacks of a revival of the old morally inept ANC, which Danny Jordaan flushed out of the metro when he was appointed mayor in May 2015. It looks even worse with Andile Lungisa in the city government. Lungisa is out on bail, pending the outcome of his appeal against a criminal conviction. He beat up another councillor. Lungisa is not the only ANC councillor out on bail. Bongo Nombiba stole money intended for his ward. The ANC’s association with criminality continues. Hence, I ask: Where is this renewal?

The EFF cannot claim moral superiority either. Its stance in the NMB and Tshwane shows no evidence of a party that prioritises the needs of the rank and file. Bobani is going to spend most of his time trying to kill probes and bringing back officials who have been suspended for alleged corruption. If the EFF really wanted to punish Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga for appointing unqualified people and mishandling the electricity outage, it should not have mattered who initiated the motion of no confidence. But the party refused to vote on the ANC motion when its motion was thrown out on account of improper submission.

If the reshuffle in NMB marked a return to an ignominious past, then its failure in Tshwane was a manifestation of theatrics by the EFF. It was that party’s way of demonstrating its disruptive influence. It was not about the people, but rather, a bid by the political elite to shore up its self-importance.

- Ndletyana is an associate professor at the University of Johannesburg

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