The laughing stock and the unlikely alliance
Plagued by political infighting and stalled service delivery that has seen increasingly violent protests, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s woes have spurred an unlikely coalition to stem the perception of the city as a laughing stock among investors – that of the local business chamber and the organisation, which is usually countering them, Cosatu.
“We are faced with the prospect of major companies either closing their doors or relocating entirely,” Bay businessman and president of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Mandla Madwara, said at a press briefing on 3 June.
He was f lanked by Cosatu’s regional secretary Andile Bloko, as well as representatives from the city’s ratepayers’ association and the South African National NGO Coalition (Sangoco). Other NGOs such as churches and even the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University are mooted to soon be joining the coalition.
Madwara was touching on what business has referred to as a virtual shutdown of the municipality, which the coalition says is causing investors to f lee either abroad or to other South African cities. It comes amid a stand-off between newlyelected octogenarian mayor, Ben Fihla, a nd newly- e l e c t e d c i t y manager, Dr Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela.
The officials may be new to their posts, but the stand-off is not. The political division has destabilised the ANC in the city to such an extent that it almost lost its majority during the 2011 local government elections.
Before Msengana-Ndlela’s appointment, there had been no permanent city manager since mid-2009.
The coalition says as many as 12 000 jobs in the city are at risk with companies, fed up with an inept municipality, either shutting their doors entirely or relocating. It is also considering legal action against the metro and has called on President Jacob Zuma to intervene.
Msengana-Ndlela, who was appointed in March and boasts a former post as director-general in the national Department of Provincial and Local Government, has complained of undue political interference from Fihla’s office. She has been stalled in trying to cancel a questionable and costly public transport tender, as well as in trying to recruit capable professionals to municipal executive director posts which have been vacant for years.
The continued ructions has ANC bosses so worried that party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and national executive committee member Derek Hanekom are jetting into the Bay almost weekly in a bid to calm tensions.
As council meetings are cancelled or delayed amid the political bickering, service delivery in the Bay has stalled and already
Picture caption specifics, from left: Business Chamber CEO Kevin Hustler, Chamber deputy present Neil Hart, Chamber president Mandla Madwara, NMB Ratepayers’ Association head Kobus Gerber, Sangoco regional secretary Mongameli Peter, NMB Ratepayers’ Association deputy Khaled El-Jabi, and Cosatu regional secretary Andile Bloko