Maverick Citizen

COUNCIL CHAOS

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor appears set to retain his position — for the time being

Nelson Mandela Bay mayor appears set to retain his position — for the time being
Nelson Mandela Bay Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

Nelson Mandela Bay Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk is likely to stay put after the municipality indicated it would not oppose an interdict aimed at keeping him in place as the leader of the coalition government.

The leader of the National Alliance and the current holder of the disputed Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor position, Gary van Niekerk, said on Monday he was confident that he would still be in charge after Wednesday when an urgent court application will be heard to stop the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) from removing or replacing him.

Last week, city manager Dr Noxolo Nqwazi declared Van Niekerk and his fellow National Alliance councillor Stag Mitchell’s seats in the council to be vacant. By law, these positions must be filled within 35 days.

Nqwazi’s letter declaring the seats vacant came in response to a letter written by a rival faction in the National Alliance, which claimed that Van Niekerk and Mitchell had been expelled from the party. The party, however, has two sets of leaders, both with a following and both claiming to be the legitimate leadership.

Van Niekerk’s chief of staff, Vasu Padayachy, said they had received a notice from the municipality that it would abide by an interdict to stop the IEC and the municipality from changing councillors. However, the municipality will oppose the second part of their court case to review the legality of Nqwazi’s decision to declare the seats vacant.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Avalanche of court cases loom after IEC gives National Alliance 35 days to fill Nelson Mandela Bay mayor’s seat

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.

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

Nqwazi 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.

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

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

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana has pushed for action against Nqwazi and said he would release conditional grants of close to R800-million to the metro only once this has been done.

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

Last week, 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.

This has put Van Niekerk and Mitchell’s positions in jeopardy, especially as the rival faction of the National Alliance has indicated that it wants to form a new coalition government.

Van Niekerk is the mayor in a coalition in which 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.

On Friday, Van Niekerk laid charges of fraud and corruption against the members of the rival National Alliance faction led by sitting councillor Bevan Brown and the party’s “other” president, Japie Jansen.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Lost control of our city manager – NMB mayor slams Noxolo Nqwazi for declaring his seat vacant

Van Niekerk is himself under investigation for fraud for allegedly illegally procuring legal services for the Office of the Speaker on a previous occasion when Nqwazi declared his seat vacant.

Sanda Nodada from the IEC said the council had 35 days to fill the vacancies.

“What happens in council in the meantime is no business for the IEC,” Nodada added. “The IEC is currently dealing with the office of the city manager as it relates to the declaration of a vacancy and not the leadership squabbles within the National Alliance.”

The matter has been set down for a court hearing on Wednesday, 18 October. DM

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