Maverick Citizen

COUNCIL CHAOS

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor heads to court after city manager declares his seat vacant

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor heads to court after city manager declares his seat vacant
Nelson Mandela Bay is due for another change in government as the city manager has declared the seat of Mayor Gary van Niekerk (above) vacant. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro was plunged into political chaos on Monday night as the city manager declared the seats of Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk and his MMC for Safety and Security vacant. This came at a crucial juncture as the city manager faces a possible disciplinary hearing for her alleged involvement in tender fraud.

Nelson Mandela Bay city manager Dr Noxolo Nqwazi on Monday declared the seat of the current mayor, Gary van Niekerk, and his MMC for Safety and Security, Stag Mitchell, vacant.

This came ahead of a council meeting scheduled for Wednesday where a decision would be taken on whether to haul Nqwazi before a disciplinary committee.

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Northern Alliance PR councillor and MMC for Safety and Security Stag Mitchell’s seat was also declared vacant. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Nqwazi was arrested by the Hawks in October 2022 for her alleged role in the unlawful signing off on a R24-million tender for toilets in several informal settlements. The tender was awarded during the pandemic-related National State of Disaster.

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Nelson Mandela Bay city manager Nxolo Nqwazi has been called on to provide reasons why she should not be suspended this week. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

She is standing trial with the metro’s former human settlements director, Norman Mapu; Nelson Mandela Bay ANC secretary, Luyolo Nqakula; businessman Xolani Masela and his spouse Nwabisa; and former Democratic Alliance councillors Trevor Louw, Neville Higgins and Victor Manyathi.

All have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nelson Mandela Bay city boss, ANC regional secretary and ex-DA councillors face money laundering and tender fraud charges

The councillors were, according to the charge sheet, paid (sometime after their alleged assistance) to vote for a motion of no confidence in a previous DA mayor, Athol Trollip, in 2018.

Earlier this year, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana withheld from the metro almost R800-million in grants and agreed to release the money only on condition that action be taken against Nqwazi, among other issues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bad governance: Finance Minister orders withholding of R781m in government grants to Nelson Mandela Bay

Party problems

In a chaotic council meeting last week, a decision was taken to give Nqwazi seven days to provide an explanation before the council decided on whether she should face a disciplinary hearing.

On Monday, Nqwazi wrote to the IEC to inform it of the proportional representation seat vacancies in the council. She referred the IEC to correspondence from the mayor’s National Alliance party. She did not reply to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on Monday.

This is the third time Nqwazi has declared the seats of the National Alliance members vacant. She did this previously when they opposed her appointment as city manager. She was acting city manager at the time.

The National Alliance (formerly known as the Northern Alliance) is beset by internal problems and a faction of the party has been trying to unseat Van Niekerk and Mitchell in a tussle over party leadership and membership. The third National Alliance councillor, Bevan Brown, heads the faction against Van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk, who is under investigation by the Hawks for allegedly fraudulently obtaining legal services for the Office of the Speaker after Nqwazi previously declared his seat vacant, has been vocal in his quest to have her removed as city manager.

Van Niekerk’s chief of staff, Vasu Padayachee, said Nqwazi’s actions were illegal and predetermined and were carried out to stop Van Niekerk from performing his “statutory duty” to investigate and report to council on whether she should face a disciplinary committee.

“This tactic from the city manager is merely delaying the inevitable and we are confident that our lawyers will be successful with the application for an interdict against her in the high court,” Padayachee said. 

“The same tactic was used on two previous occasions to try to remove our councillors. In both cases, the high court found the actions to be illegal,” he said. 

Three administrations and counting

After the 2021 local government elections, the political instability in the metro – already notorious for its shenanigans in the corridors of power – became even worse.

There are 12 parties with seats in the current council. The ANC and the DA received roughly the same number of votes in the November 2021 local government elections and both hold 48 seats. The EFF holds eight seats. The National Alliance holds three seats, two of which Nqwazi has declared vacant. The rest of the parties hold one or two seats each.

The metro is on its third coalition government since the 2021 local government elections. Van Niekerk was the speaker in two, and is now the mayor.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Lawlessness and chaos’ – MEC’s damning account of local government collapse in Nelson Mandela Bay

Read more in Daily Maverick: DA-led coalition government loses control of Nelson Mandela Bay Council in chaotic meeting

The first administration was led by the ANC under the helm of former mayor, Eugene Johnson. The second was led by the Democratic Alliance’s Retief Odendaal. The third sees the ANC as the majority party with the support of the EFF, but Van Niekerk was made mayor.

While two Eastern Cape MECs for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Xolile Nqatha and the current Zolile Williams, have attempted to change the structure of the municipality to bring about more stability, this has not been carried through. DM

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