Avalanche of court cases looms after IEC gives National Alliance 35 days to fill Nelson Mandela Bay mayor’s seat
A special council meeting to decide the fate of the city manager was cancelled while factions in the National Alliance scrambled after the IEC set a deadline to fill the seats of the mayor and a mayoral committee member.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has given the National Alliance 35 days to fill two seats, including that of Gary van Niekerk, the executive mayor, after they were declared vacant by the Nelson Mandela Bay city manager Dr Noxolo Nqwazi earlier this week.
The newly ignited chaos in the metro, which can be run only by a coalition because of the outcome of the 2021 local government election, has led to the cancellation of a special city council meeting that had been scheduled for Thursday, 12 October, to decide on possible disciplinary steps to be taken against the city manager.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Nelson Mandela Bay mayor heads to court after city manager declares his seat vacant
A notice of the cancellation of the city council meeting was issued on Wednesday morning.
A confident Van Niekerk, however, issued a notice that his Mayoral Charity Golf Day will be launched on 13 October.
On Monday, Nqwazi declared vacant the seats of Van Niekerk and his mayoral committee member for Safety and Security, Stag Mitchell, citing correspondence from their party, the National Alliance.
Van Niekerk has in the past openly called for Nqwazi to be removed from her position.
Municipal manager under pressure
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.
She is standing trial with the metro’s former human settlements director Norman Mapu; Nelson Mandela Bay ANC regional secretary Luyolo Nqakula; businessman Xolani Masela and his spouse Nwabisa; and former DA councillors Trevor Louw, Neville Higgins and Victor Manyathi.
All have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
According to the charge sheet, the councillors were 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 conditions.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Bad governance: Finance Minister orders withholding of R781m in government grants to Nelson Mandela Bay
On Monday, Nqwazi wrote to the IEC to inform it of the proportional representation seat vacancies in the council.
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.
Van Niekerk is currently the mayor in a coalition where the ANC holds the majority vote and which is supported by the EFF. Keeping Nqwazi on as city manager has been a point of contention within the coalition government.
The National Alliance (formerly known as the Northern Alliance) is beset by leadership struggles and various claims to leadership.
On Tuesday, the faction opposing Van Niekerk and Mitchell, led by the party’s other president, Japie Jansen, and other deputy president, Bevan Brown, a serving councillor in the metro who had a fallout with Van Niekerk, said Van Niekerk and Mitchell’s membership of the party had been terminated.
“The National Alliance has taken the difficult decision to terminate the membership of two councillors for bringing its name into disrepute. We will not turn a blind eye when our representatives fail to serve the people,” Jansen said.
The party explained during a press conference that the memberships of Van Niekerk and Mitchell had been terminated for “bringing the party into disrepute”. It said a disciplinary hearing had been held on 6 October, which neither of the men had attended.
Van Niekerk has previously said that he does not recognise this faction of the National Alliance. He has also, on occasion, suspended Brown’s membership.
Brown said he did not believe that Van Niekerk and Mitchell had the “best interests of residents” at heart and that the party had lost confidence in them.
“We desperately need stable leadership,” Brown said.
In their letter to Nqwazi, Brown’s faction of the National Alliance explained that the party had decided to expel Van Niekerk and Mitchell from the party “with immediate effect”.
MEC is watching
Pheello Oliphant, spokesperson for Eastern Cape MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Zolile Williams, said they had not received “word from Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality pertaining to the turmoil taking place in Gqeberha”.
“In terms of the Municipal Structures Act, the municipal manager is the right official empowered by law to declare a vacancy in a municipal council. She is expected to communicate the vacancy to the Independent Electoral Commission. The party that has a vacancy then submits the replacement to the IEC,” he said.
“In this instance, the National Alliance is expected to take a decision on who will replace its proportional representation (PR) councillors.
“The MEC will intervene once the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality reaches an impasse,” Oliphant said, adding that the MEC’s wish was to see an end to the political instability in the metro.
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 Padayachy, 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 the council on whether she should face a disciplinary committee.
“We have brought a high court application to interdict the city manager and also to challenge the legality of the declaration. The matter will probably be set down for next week on a semi-urgent basis,” he said.
Van Niekerk said he and Mitchell had explained to the faction led by Jansen and Brown why they would not be appearing at a disciplinary hearing.
“The hearing went ahead by faction under a new name. They illegally expelled me and Stag [Mitchell]. Then the faction wrote to the city manager to declare vacancies.”
“We wrote to [the] IEC to tell them that the National Alliance faction is not legally recognised and no vacancies should be filled … We are going to court to interdict the IEC if no response is received. Criminal charges will be laid against the illegal faction posing and operating as the National Alliance,” Van Niekerk said.
Three administrations and counting
After the November 2021 local government elections, the political instability in the metro worsened as the outcome meant that only a coalition government could run the metro.
There are 12 parties with seats in the current council. The ANC and the DA received roughly the same number of votes in the 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 in its third coalition government since the 2021 elections. Van Niekerk was the speaker in two and is now the mayor.
Sanda Nodada from the IEC said the commission had received a letter declaring the two vacancies. There was a window of 35 days for these to be filled.
On Wednesday, the National Alliance issued a public notice to its supporters that it wanted to have a “coalition discussion” with “its branches, members, potential affiliates, pastors, community activists and the community at large”.
The future of the metro’s leadership could be determined by the outcome of the National Alliance dispute as it holds three crucial seats in the council and could put another large party, such as the DA, in power if its members voted for a motion of no confidence. DM