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DA calls for Nelson Mandela Bay mayor to face disciplinary action while metro ructions continue

DA calls for Nelson Mandela Bay mayor to face disciplinary action while metro ructions continue
Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Gary van Niekerk. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Fresh from a council meeting where the city manager was placed under precautionary suspension, the Democratic Alliance has called for Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Gary van Niekerk to be investigated by an individual or committee appointed by the MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Xolile Williams.

Within days of Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Gary van Niekerk successfully convincing the metro’s council to place the city manager on precautionary suspension, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has asked for Van Niekerk himself to face a disciplinary committee.

The metro has had three coalition governments since local elections in 2021. Van Niekerk was the speaker in two of them and is now mayor. 

Due to an ongoing leadership dispute and instability within his party, the National Alliance, Van Niekerk’s seat was declared vacant several times by the city manager, Dr Noxolo Nqwazi, who was placed on precautionary suspension by the council on Friday, 20 October.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Conflict-riddled Nelson Mandela Bay places city manager on precautionary suspension

Van Niekerk led the charge for Nqwazi to be suspended.

Nqwazi is standing trial on several charges, along 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.

The charges relate to a tender for toilets in the metro’s informal settlements that was granted during the State of Disaster in 2020.

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 three councillors were paid to vote for a motion of no confidence in a previous DA mayor, Athol Trollip, in 2018.

In August 2023, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana requested that action be taken against Nqwazi. He said he would release R781-million in grant funding on the condition that this was done.

Van Niekerk has said the council’s decision to act against Nqwazi will ensure that the December tranche of the grants will be paid.

Two weeks ago, Van Niekerk asked for a special council meeting to discuss taking disciplinary action against Nqwazi after she declared his seat and that of his fellow councillor, Stag Mitchell, as vacant.

Last week, they successfully obtained a provisional interdict to remain in their positions pending a legal review, and on Friday Nqwazi was put on precautionary suspension pending an investigation by the metro’s disciplinary board.

Alleged fraud

Van Niekerk is also being investigated by the Hawks for obtaining legal services in the name of the Speaker’s Office after his seat was declared vacant during the first coalition government in early 2022.

According to charges laid against him, it is alleged that he had pretended to still be part of the Speaker’s Office when these legal services were obtained – even though an interim speaker had been appointed. The firm of attorneys was also not on the list of approved service providers. As a result, the municipality now faces a R500,000 bill for legal services.

Van Niekerk has admitted that he did this, but denied any wrongdoing, saying he acted in defence of the council. 

DA councillor Morne Steyn has now written to the Eastern Cape MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Zolile Williams, to complain that, despite their request, no investigation into Van Niekerk’s actions was launched by the current speaker’s office. The speaker is Eugene Johnson.

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

Steyn has asked Williams to investigate, saying that the Speaker’s Office had 40 days to do so, but failed to institute an investigation.

“We believe the continued failure to investigate the matter expeditiously exposes the municipal administration to adverse risk,” he said.

He pointed out that Van Niekerk had “sweeping powers” and could “move millions on a daily basis”.

Van Niekerk’s chief of staff, Vasu Padayachy, said the Speaker’s Office had informed the MEC that “this item will be tabled at the next Council meeting, as per the regulations pertaining to Councillor Code of Conduct”.

Williams’ spokesperson, Pheelo Oliphant, said he had received the letter. DM

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