South Africa, Politics

Analysis: Mayor Mashaba’s aggressive tactics may alienate friends and embolden opponents

By Greg Nicolson 14 February 2017

DA Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba was on Tuesday accused of firing one of his MMCs for standing up to his demands. While the mayor claims to be challenging corruption in the city, the allegations suggest he has little regard for process or the law. It sounds a lot like what some ANC leaders are accused of. By GREG NICOLSON.

When the DA managed to take the City of Johannesburg from the ANC in August, Councillor Anthony Still was excited. He was appointed Mashaba’s MMC for Environmental and Infrastructure Services, a position he’d lobbied for; it’s one of the most important in the city and Still felt he had the right qualifications. On Tuesday, he said he wasn’t motivated by climbing the DA hierarchy, but by improving governance.

Mashaba fired Still on Friday morning last week and the decision was then approved by the the DA’s federal executive. The announcement came through on Tuesday.

Since becoming mayor in August, Mashaba has been criticised for his comments on immigration and crime, for cancelling key ANC projects, and claiming wins against corruption that the former government says are due to the ANC. Still’s axing has led to allegations that Mashaba is trying to ram through his decisions and flout proper procedure against the advice of his own council members.

I’m obviously very disappointed,” said Still on Tuesday.

The mayor’s statement said Still would be replaced by Nico de Jager after a “difference of opinion on the approach to tackling matters of investigations into alleged fraud and corruption” at City Power. Mashaba said he needed a team of MMCs committed to meeting the election promise of unapologetically tackling fraud and corruption.

The breakdown in the relationship between Still and Mashaba, according to multiple sources, appears to have begun over choosing the replacement for Pikitup managing director Amanda Nair, who was fired in September. After two rounds of interviews, the appointment panel, including Still, decided not to appoint any of the candidates, including acting head Lungile Dlamini, who had been sent from Johannesburg Water to take over. Allegedly, the mayor favoured Dlamini and was irritated when the selection panel said it had begun a head-hunting process and had to follow proper procedures.

It was the ANC that threw the first punch on Tuesday. ANC Joburg spokesperson Jolidee Matongo claimed Mashaba had “Trump-like tendencies” and would purge anyone who stood in his way.

The Joburg Water appointment was followed by a disagreement over what should happen with the investigation into City Power head Sicelo Xulu. Mashaba recently appointed auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo to investigate tenders worth billions of rand at City Power, claiming the ANC had ignored the allegations. “When I entered office I declared corruption public enemy number one and I am committed to rooting it out of every corner of our city,” said Mashaba a week ago, announcing the investigation. He said it would be completed in six weeks.

I am equally opposed to corruption as he is,” said Still on the investigation at City Power. While multiple investigations have been done in the past and haven’t been able to find wrongdoing on behalf of City Power or Xulu, Still said they might have missed something and should proceed. He objected, however, to Mashaba’s call to suspend Xulu.

Basically the mayor was very cross with me for not being able to get the guy suspended,” said Still. He added that the mayor thought Still was “not sufficiently assisting him in terms of that objective”. Past investigations did not hold enough weight; Xulu wasn’t a threat to staff and had, at least, to be provided an opportunity to defend himself. As the MMC, Still didn’t have the power to suspend Xulu but Mashaba allegedly felt Still and the City Power board were obstructing his efforts.

City Power chairperson Reverend Frank Chikane has confirmed and welcomed the SizweNtsalubaGobodo investigation, but on Tuesday was not able to be reached to comment on Mashaba’s alleged attempt to have Xulu suspended.

Mashaba’s spokesperson Tony Taverna Turisan said on Tuesday, “I cannot comment on the specific questions relating to Lungelo Dlamini and Sicelo Xulu as these are internal employment matters and legally we cannot disclose further information at this time.” He claimed the allegations regarding City Power and Joburg Water only came from the ANC, while Daily Maverick also heard claims from within the DA.

Unlike past administrations, the mayor is vehemently committed to rooting out corruption within the city at all levels without fear of favour – a commitment which must be shared by all members of the mayoral committee,” said Taverna Turisan. “Understandably, this would upset those who have stood to gain from the corrupt practices of the past.”

The ANC’s Matongo, who released a statement ahead of the announcement of Still’s firing, said on Tuesday that the party believes it’s a shame Still is facing the axe for wanting to follow the rule of law, which Mashaba has committed to. “The ANC wishes to encourage all DA councillors to resist Mashaba’s Trump-like tendencies and insist on upholding the laws of our country.”

Newly appointed MMC De Jager has been a Johannesburg councillor since 2005 and has a tertiary qualification in public administration. While in opposition, he worked with the DA in transport. Still was a former managing director at Joburg Water, had been a councillor for two years, and holds a Master’s degree from Oxford.

Mashaba has faced a wide range of criticism since his appointment as mayor. He made controversial statements about foreigners and crime, leading some to accuse him of causing the current vigilante attacks on foreigners in Rosettenville. He has made multiple claims of cracking down on corruption, which the ANC and trade union Samwu have said ride on the ANC’s work. And he has closed certain ANC projects which the mayor said were unnecessary, such as effectively shutting down Jozi@Work.

If Mashaba did try to impose Dlamini on Joburg Water and have Xulu suspended from City Power, against the advice from his MMC and the entities’ boards, and then fired his council member for disagreeing, it raises questions about the new mayor’s leadership style. If he continues on his path, the only way Mashaba could get his demands passed is through firing and appointing a new board at entities such as City Power.

Doesn’t sound much different from a number of claims against the national ANC. DM

Photo of Hillbrow and Braamfontein by Paul Saad via Flickr