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Opposition parties planning to free embattled eThekwini from ANC’s clutches

Mxolisi Kaunda, mayor of eThekwini. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

DA says it is in talks with all opposition parties to form a coalition on the back of the ANC's dismal performance in KwaZulu-Natal.

The days of ANC power in eThekwini could be numbered as opposition parties are planning a hostile takeover of the embattled municipality.

The ANC, which got just more than 42.3% of the vote in eThekwini in the November 2021 local government election, is holding on to the city by a thread, leading a coalition it cobbled together with Abantu Batho Congress (ABC).

Philani Mavundla, leader of Abantu Batho Congress. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

This coalition deal saw the ANC’s Mxolisi Kaunda keep hold of the mayoral chain, with the ABC leader, controversial businessman PG Mavundla, as his deputy. ABC was also given the human settlement and infrastructure portfolios in the city council’s executive committee (Exco).

The coalition has gone from one crisis to another. In March, an attempt by the ANC to get Maxwell Mbili appointed municipal manager was rejected by the council, with Mavundla voting with the opposition against Mbili’s appointment.

In April, floods in eThekwini killed more than 400 people and displaced more than 40,000 families. Houses, bridges, roads, electricity, water supply and sanitation systems were destroyed. Residents who have been left without water and electricity have staged strikes and protests.

This week, Mavundla complained in a leaked WhatsApp message that he was being sidelined by ANC-deployed officials in eThekwini Municipality and was not being given the respect befitting a deputy mayor. He said when Kaunda was away on sick leave another ANC member stood in, instead of the actual deputy mayor doing the job.

The opposition DA got 25.6% of the 2021 vote and was on the verge of putting together a governing coalition with the EFF (10.4% of the vote) and the IFP (7.1%) and other, smaller parties when the initial council meeting was disrupted in November. By the next sitting, the ANC had persuaded the ABC and other small parties to form a coalition.

Nicole Graham, DA leader in eThekwini and a member of Exco, said her party was in talks with all opposition parties, including Mavundla’s ABC, to see how they could rescue the city from the clutches of a “corrupt and clueless” ANC.

She said at some stage the opposition would call a vote of no confidence in Kaunda’s leadership but would not rush it as they wanted to build a coalition that would be “stable” and “endurable”.

“We are considering tabling a vote of no confidence against Kaunda because he does not have the leadership qualities to lead the city. However, we have learnt from our mistake. We don’t want to rush into [a] coalition … We don’t want to rush to get to mayoral office for the sake of it.

“We are building a working relationship with other smaller parties because we want things to work in eThekwini Municipality, to change the lives of the people,” she said.

Graham added that water and electricity supply had become unstable, and people were “battling to live under difficult circumstances”. eThekwini’s economy had been “flattened” by Covid-19,  the July 2021 unrest and the recent floods.

“This has become a lawless city, a dirty and dangerous place to live in. We are speaking to smaller parties. I speak to PG [Mavundla] all the time. On some issues we agree and on others we disagree,” she said.

Mdu Nkosi, IFP chief whip in eThekwini and a member of Exco, said: “It seems to me the days of the ANC-ABC coalition are numbered. I so wish the ANC would come to its senses and understand it does not have the numbers to govern on its own. It needs partners, including in the employment of the city manager. This thing of coming to council with egos is not going to help the ANC. If they don’t respect coalition partners, their days in charge of eThekwini are numbered.

Nkosi said smaller parties working with the ANC now wanted to be part of a new coalition, without the ANC.

“We all want to see a clean administration running the city; we want the best for the people of eThekwini,” Nkosi said.

The ANC rejected talk that it was on the way out. Mlondi Mkhize, spokesperson of the newly elected ANC eThekwini regional leadership, said regional secretary Musa Ncika had been tasked with ironing out differences with ABC’s Mavundla and making the coalition work.

“We do have challenges and we are dealing with those challenges … in a matter of time we [will] have dealt with their [ABC] concerns,” he said. “We believe we are in a coalition with a party that shares a common central goal of service delivery.”

Xolani Dube, a Durban-based political analyst with Xubera Research Institute, said the ANC had performed so poorly that, if it were to lose power, it would never again regain control of the city.

“The ANC is deeply divided between the ANC of [former mayor] Zandile Gumede and the ANC of [council Speaker] Thabani Nyawose. If the ANC were to lose power tomorrow, the two factions would be on top of each other, blaming one another.

“eThekwini is the only metro where the ANC is still in charge. Once it loses that, it is all downhill for the ANC because there would be nowhere else in the country’s economic powerhouse where the party will be in charge and thus be able to dispense patronage,” Dube said.

Thwarted city manager aspirant Mbili declined to discuss with DM168 his litigation against eThekwini Municipality, saying: “It is not a relevant platform.”

Opposition parties said Mbili was the ANC’s pick for the job and they suspected the panel that interviewed him was there to rubber-stamp the party’s preference.

But, in his court papers, Mbili (currently Ray Nkonyeni Local Municipality manager) denies he was handpicked by the ANC. He wants a court order to compel the city to reconsider him as he was well qualified, scored the highest number of points in interviews, and was the best person for the job.

Opposition parties in the council said Mbili’s litigation was premature as the council was still dealing with the matter.

“The candidate [Mbili] was too quick to go the court route because the council had not erred in taking this decision,” said the IFP’s Nkosi. “If the candidate feels he was qualified and came top in all the interviews, why can’t he wait for the process to start again so that he will re-emerge as the top performer and get the job. Why go to court? Now that he has taken the court route, this process will take longer. The people of eThekwini will stay longer without a city manager and this will affect service delivery when we need it most,” Nkosi said.

ANC spokesperson Mkhize said his party was also worried litigation would delay the appointment of a new city manager.

The litigation will be discussed in a council meeting on Tuesday, 24 May.

The previous city manager, Sipho Nzuza, was forced out of office after being arrested for fraud, corruption and money laundering — alongside former mayor Gumede – regarding a R320-million Durban solid waste tender. Nzuza and Gumede, and 20 other co-accused, are out on R50,000 bail and the case is due in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 13 July. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 

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  • Nothing of consequence will happen in Ethekwini until politicians, of all hues, leave their egos at the door and act solely for the benefit of the city and its residents.
    For that to happens it is necessary that pigs grow wings!

  • EFF? I spot a fatal flaw in the plan. I’m curious to know if there is a single example where the EFF in a coalition hasn’t run aground?

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