Maverick Citizen


Nelson Mandela Bay Metro asks Eastern Cape government to send an acting city manager

Nelson Mandela Bay Metro asks Eastern Cape government to send an acting city manager
Nelson Mandela Bay city manager, Gary van Niekerk, has asked for a provincial government intervention to replace suspended city manager Noxolo Nqwazi while her disciplinary hearing is ongoing. (Photos: Deon Ferreira)

The disciplinary hearing of Nelson Mandela Bay’s city manager, who was arrested by the Hawks in 2022, started last week. It is anticipated that it will take months to finish. 

The Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) Metro Council has agreed to ask the provincial government to send a senior official to act as the NMB city manager.

A disciplinary hearing against the metro’s city manager, Dr Noxolo Nqwazi, began on 14 May and according to NMB Executive Mayor Gary van Niekerk, will probably take months to finalise.

The current acting city manager wants to return to his former department, which has prompted the call to the provincial government.

Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana demanded that action be taken against Nqwazi after her arrest by the Hawks in 2022. He made this a condition for releasing R781-million in grants to the metro.

In the following financial year, the metro lost R430-million in grant funding because of underspending.

Nqwazi was arrested for her alleged role in the unlawful signing off of a R24-million tender for toilets in informal settlements. The tender — awarded during the pandemic-related National State of Disaster — was flagged by the Special Investigating Unit.

The NMB metro has had three coalition governments since the municipal elections in 2021. The first was led by the ANC, the second by the DA and the third by an ANC-EFF coalition with the National Alliance’s Van Niekerk becoming mayor.

Running battles

Nqwazi, who fought running battles with Van Niekerk, was suspended after her arrest and several councillors have acted as city manager in her place. The latest is Luvuyo Magalela, the head of the beleaguered electricity department.

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

But while Van Niekerk claims the coalition government he leads is doing better than that of his predecessor, the DA’s Retief Odendaal, opposition parties at a recent city council meeting were scathing of his performance.

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

At the start of the meeting, Van Niekerk shared a presentation that showed, according to him, that his government was doing better than its predecessor, even if it was only by 1%. He claimed Treasury officials had applauded his team for their work.

However, Van Niekerk admitted the municipality had spent only 55% of its grant budget, with just one month left until the end of the financial year. He said he was confident they would end the financial year having spent 90% of their grant budget, as “the invoices are coming in”.

He spoke at a time when unemployment in the city is sky-high. A month ago, thousands of unemployed people responded to an advertisement for cleaners and a stampede ensued in which damage was done to the railings of historic buildings around City Hall. Gang violence is rife in parts of the city.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 

The ACDP’s Lance Grootboom said Van Niekerk’s presentation showed his inefficiencies.

‘A total embarrassment’

“If you go to the Northern Areas [where predominantly coloured communities live], sewage and water are running down the street. It is a mess in every corner of this metro. There are potholes in every street. Residents are getting nothing. The mayor just sorts himself out taking pictures on the golf course.

“He is a total embarrassment to this city. He is the weakest mayor we ever had. He is a disappointment for the communities of the Northern Areas. He has done nothing,” Grootboom said.

Gary van Niekerk

Gary van Niekerk on the golf course. (Photo: Supplied)

Referring to the gangsterism that is rife in the metro, he said: “People are dying while he is playing golf. His explanations don’t help. But let him enjoy his time. There will come a day when he will be no more. The reason why people think he is missing is because we never see him in action.”

Lawrence Troon from the Good party said, “The government spent 50% of the budget in 11 months. That tells you there is no capacity upstairs [in the mayor’s office]. He thinks this is something good … 50% in 11 months. He is the worst mayor we have had since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck.”

Van Niekerk’s predecessor, Odendaal, said it was clear that the city was in crisis. The metro had recently clocked up record grant funding losses of R430-million, electricity losses of R1.3-billion and attained only 27.7% of its service delivery targets.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Urgent call for army to protect crucial substations in Nelson Mandela Bay as tensions grow

Odendaal, who leads the opposition in the city council, was speaking after leading a public meeting in the suburb of Kwadwesi. “I am feeling sick,” he said. “The stench of sewage running in the streets here is overwhelming.

“There is a very good reason why the residents of this city know something is wrong. It doesn’t have to do with whether people like Gary or not. There are huge problems here.

“We have 6,000 water leaks outstanding. Contractors were only appointed recently. Again, there were months that we could not get a single one repaired. Everything came to a standstill. There are large parts of the city without working street lights. It has nothing to do with the budget. The city simply isn’t working.”

He said Van Niekerk “likes comparing what I did with his term in government. When we came in, capital expenditure was at 1%. I am still horrified.”

Thousands of young people rocked up to City Hall in Gqeberha to apply for just over a hundred jobs. (Photos: Supplied)

Political instability

He said Van Niekerk couldn’t possibly keep his promise that 90% of the budget would be spent by the end of the municipality’s financial year.

But he agreed that a Section 154 intervention would be a good one. “There is nobody with the capacity to be city manager left at the metro. Sadly, we must resort to this because we’re regarded as a financially stable metro. But I guess that is what political instability does to a metro.”

Section 154 of the Constitution provides a broad framework within which national and provincial governments must support and strengthen local government.

Van Niekerk made it clear that it was not his intention that the municipality be placed under administration. Several Eastern Cape municipalities have been placed under administration because of financial trouble.

“We are not being frogmarched into a Section 154,” he said. “We have asked for help.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Eastern Cape rural municipalities return R2.2bn in unspent grants to Treasury over five years

Van Niekerk said they had spent 47% of their conditional grants by April. “It is not brilliant but it is 1% better than the previous administration,” he said. “But I am not bragging.”

He said the opposition parties were forecasting “doomsday” for the metro because of the current coalition government, “but we are doing slightly better than last year when the DA was in charge”.

He said they had a successful meeting with the Treasury and his team “received applause” after their presentation.

“Treasury said there are no alarm bells,” he added. But he admitted that there was “constructive criticism”.

Missing posters that appeared on streetlights everywhere in the city early in May. (Photo: Supplied)

Service delivery

The metro’s financial health and governance over the past two years were rated as sound. However, Chief Financial Officer Selwyn Thys resigned recently and the position needs to be filled. The metro’s institutional governance was found to be “fragile” and was flagged this year as “declining”. Service delivery progressed from “distressed” last year to “fragile”.

The CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Denise van Huyssteen, said the municipality’s ability to deliver services had been adversely affected by political instability since 2016.

“During this period, the municipality has had 15 different city managers, of which most have been in an acting capacity. Only 47% of the municipality’s budget has been spent in the current financial year, which ends in just over a month.

“This funding is vital to ensure that critical investment takes place into upgrading and maintaining the metro’s ailing electricity, water and sanitation infrastructure. Affecting these investments and the broader delivery of services are the ongoing bottlenecks and challenges within the municipality’s supply chain systems.

“We hope that as a priority, the MEC for cooperative governance and traditional affairs will move quickly to appoint a suitably qualified, competent and action-orientated person into the city manager role to ensure that stability can be returned to the administration of the municipality. This position is the most critical one in ensuring that the city is well-run and, as such, should be filled permanently.

“As organised business, we remain willing to collaborate with the municipality in providing technical expertise and other support to help address key challenges affecting the metro,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Carolyn Fryer says:

    The day Retief Odendaal was forced out as mayor you could see the decline happen. Everytime this metro gets a DA mayor that starts implementing constructive changes they are forced out by power hungry opponents who have no intention to actually do the work and get things done. Coalitions are part of the downfall of SA….

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