Nelson Mandela Bay left without a mayor after MEC pushes ahead with municipal structure changes
There is considerable uncertainty around whether Nelson Mandela Bay metro still has its DA mayor, Retief Odendaal. Eastern Cape MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Zolile Williams has promulgated a decision to change the municipality’s structure from an executive system to a collective one, in effect removing Odendaal from his job.
A change in the structure of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, promulgated earlier this month, has in effect removed the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) executive mayor, Retief Odendaal, from his position, as there is no apparent interim mechanism created in the law for this type of decision.
Odendaal, with DA support, has now filed an urgent interdict to provisionally suspend the decision by provincial MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Zolile Williams, pending a judicial review of its correctness.
He said on Wednesday that they are not using taxpayers’ money for the legal action.
In papers before the court, Odendaal accused Williams of acting unconstitutionally, irrationally and “with ulterior purpose”. He said Williams pushed the decision through without resolving an intergovernmental dispute declared by the current coalition government.
He said a judicial review of this decision might take considerable time, and that the metro would need an interim court order to keep the current executive system in place.
The ANC holds 48 seats in the metro’s council, as does the DA. Smaller parties make up the rest of the seats. Under the new system, the ANC, DA, EFF and the Northern Alliance will serve on the executive committee, while smaller parties will sit in council but not in the political leadership body.
At the moment, the Northern Alliance, the Defenders of the People, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the Good party, the Abantu Integrity Movement, the African Independent Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress all hold leadership positions in the coalition government, along with the DA.
Williams’ spokesperson, Pheello Oliphant, confirmed that the MEC had received the court papers on 19 December and had filed an intention to oppose.
The matter has been set down for 30 December.
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While it was not yet possible to obtain Williams’ opposing affidavit, he said earlier this year that he believed the political instability in the metro was not in the best interest of service delivery and its residents.
Williams, a widely respected municipal manager before entering politics, said the new coalition government was very unstable.
“There is no focus on the delivery of services, but instead on political party interests.”
He said the coalition remained unregulated as it was nothing more than a “gentlemen’s agreement” and unenforceable.
Odendaal said in papers before the Gqeberha High Court that concerns about the decision, raised by Williams’ predecessor, Xolile Nqatha, were no longer valid.
He said the decision to push ahead with the changes was a power grab by the ANC. “An MEC certainly cannot select a type of municipality to suit that MEC’s political party.”
He said a concern was raised that the municipality had become factionalised and politicised during the ANC-led coalition government that originally came into power in November 2021, and that administrators would only respond to certain political figures.
Nqatha had also complained that the ANC’s coalition partners who held positions on the mayoral committee acted like mayors themselves, and that coalition politics had undermined service delivery.
Odendaal said this reason was opaque and no specific examples were given.
“For all we know, the MEC could be referring to instances where the administration refused to implement unconstitutional decisions,” he added.
Odendaal said that even before the current coalition government came into power, the council had voted against the MEC’s proposal to change the municipality’s structure.
He said the current coalition government is successfully addressing the backlog in service delivery and there were no threats to its stability.
He further described in court papers that he had received a letter from Williams wanting to make an appointment at short notice to discuss the issue. However, when Odendaal tried to reschedule the meeting, he did not receive a response. Instead, the decision to change the municipality’s structure was promulgated on 12 December.
Odendaal added that the decision to change the municipal structure also undermined democracy as voters had not given the DA or the ANC a clear majority at the ballot box.
He said even if the MEC was correct in his reasoning, he had failed to prove how a structural change would address his concerns.
“Forcing councillors to work on an executive committee will not magic away their political differences and somehow force them to cooperate … A change in the executive structure will not make the political realities of the metro disappear.” DM/MC