MAIDEN MUNICIPAL MOMENT
‘Delinquent’ Joburg mayor to deliver State of the City Address despite threat of motion of no confidence
Johannesburg Executive Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda, accused of being delinquent after only a month on the job, will provide updates on the city’s plans to stabilise the electricity supply, provide clean water and improve its finances.
Johannesburg Executive Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda will deliver his maiden State of the City Address on Tuesday, 6 June. It is not expected to be a smooth ride as ActionSA has threatened to table a motion of no confidence against him and the community is likely to protest.
This comes a month after Gwamanda took over the reins to lead Johannesburg, South Africa’s richest metro with a budget of more than R70-billion.
He is a member of the Al Jama-ah party, which has three seats in the 270-seat Joburg council.
Daily Maverick previously reported that Gwamanda has defended himself against allegations of dodgy dealings. He was part of a company known as iThemba Lama Africa funeral scheme, into which people allegedly channelled money at his behest, allegations which his party admitted were partially true.
Former mayor Thapelo Amad told the publication that he and Gwamanda were part of the scheme when they were “young and naive”, and that they assisted cash-strapped people with the burial of loved ones from their own pockets. When the group attempted to convert the NPO into a business, it failed.
However, ActionSA said the mayor had not addressed the allegations extensively and that should he fail to do so on Tuesday, it would sponsor a motion of no confidence.
“We cannot allow the economic capital of South Africa to be run by a mayor who is facing serious allegations of scamming residents of funeral insurance investments at a time when service delivery is on the decline across the city,” said ActionSA’s caucus leader, Funzi Ngobeni.
“Since his election in May, Gwamanda has consistently ducked from media opportunities to come clean over the serious allegations he is facing.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Al Jama-ah’s Kabelo Gwamanda voted in as latest mayor of Joburg
Gwamanda has had one public engagement in Alexander township. At the event, he was quizzed about his highest qualifications, to which he responded he could be “a black version of John Steenhuisen”. (The DA leader does not have a university degree.)
Since his election, he has failed to attend 17 scheduled integrated development plan (IDP) sessions.
Council Speaker Colleen Makhubele expressed concern at Gwamanda and other councillors’ absenteeism at the meetings and wrote to chastise them, saying they undermined the sessions aimed at enabling service delivery.
“This unprecedented, unacceptable conduct is disrespectful to … our residents, stakeholders and communities that we are elected to represent and is paramount to contempt of council processes,” she said in an internal memo dated 25 May.
Speaker’s U-turn on mayor
However, on Monday, when asked to give an honest assessment of the mayor’s performance thus far, Makhubele changed her tune, saying Gwamanda had risen to the occasion.
“The executive mayor is a very capable individual and has shown tremendous leadership since he has taken office,” Makhubele said while addressing the media before the State of the City Address.
“The government of local unity (GLU) has placed enormous weight on his shoulders and I think it should be appreciated in the short period of time that he has been an executive mayor … getting to grips with the issues of the city, understanding the various departments, pulling together the teams, etc. We have been very impressed at the pace he has managed to bring himself to speed.”
‘Off sick’ mayor
The chief whip of the council, Sithembiso Zungu, also came to Gwamanda’s defence, saying he had been sick for some time.
“The mayor wasn’t well for quite some time. I think he came at a time where he was not well and could not fully attend these meetings. I think he understands the importance of these meetings.”
Zungu said Gwamanda and other councillors who had failed to attend the public sessions had apologised and all attended the last session.
“They’ve shown remorse and apologised to the Speaker to say that it should have never have happened again that we miss such meetings.”
Sleeping on the job?
The ANC was instrumental in Gwamanda’s election to the top position. Asked by Daily Maverick about Gwamanda’s inaction, ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula last week said it was concerning.
“Together with the provincial leadership, I am going to have a conversation with our deployees to understand exactly what is happening. Not only the mayor, but we want our public representatives to be visible.
“If a councillor is nowhere to be found, then it means you are sleeping on duty. And that should be a concern to us, and it is indeed a concern,” he said.
What to expect?
The State of the City Address is expected to touch on a number of issues which residents grapple with, including the city’s plan to stabilise the electricity supply amid rolling blackouts, the supply of clean running water, the provision of housing, the repair of roads and other infrastructure, and improving the city’s financial position.
Read more in Daily Maverick: 2022 SOCA: Joburg will rise from the ruins, says Mayor Mpho Phalatse
It is also expected to give an assessment of the work done so far and to provide an outline of the city’s plans for the future.
Possibility of protests
Makhubele said the possibility of protests could not be ruled out, adding the city was well prepared in this regard.
“As always, we do anticipate that there might be protests as it always happens with every State of the City Address. Various members of the communities use the opportunity to make their voices heard to get the attention of the leadership of the city. However, we want to assure our residents and our guests that provisions have been made. Security measures have been put in place. All guests will be protected.”
Gwamanda’s address is expected to be debated in the council chambers on Wednesday. It will be followed by the budget for the 2023/24 financial year, which is expected to be tabled on 13 June. DM