New mayor: Age ain’t nothing but a number

2013-03-17 10:00

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It’s been a good week for old men.

On Monday, 81-year-old Benson Fihla was appointed mayor of Eastern Cape’s troubled Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

Then on Wednesday, Catholics across the world rejoiced at the election of 76-year-old Pope Francis.

While the pope has the daunting task of uniting the scandal-prone church, the new Nelson Mandela Bay metro mayor has enough of his own problems to deal with.

For years, the metro has been dogged by political infighting, maladministration and instability.

“Oom Ben”, as he is known, was appointed to head the Port Elizabeth-based council after the ANC sacked mayor Zanoxolo Wayile and his deputy, Nancy Sihlwayi, this week.

Wayile’s axing was downplayed as a “redeployment” by the ANC, and followed the resignation of his nemesis, Nceba Faku, as party chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Bay region.

Wayile and Faku have been at war since 2011 when the former allowed the release of the damning Kabuso forensic report, which found that Faku had acted in a corrupt manner when he was the metro’s mayor.

The two led warring factions for control of the region last year and both vied for the regional chair position, which Faku won.

The tensions between them have been blamed for poor service delivery in the city.

The metro went without a municipal manager for more than two years, and only appointed one last month. Most senior managers are only acting in their positions.

But this week saw the end of the power struggle.

Faku said he quit to focus on his business interests while the ANC acknowledged it had to redeploy Wayile to bring stability to the metro.

In an interview on Thursday, Fihla said he was excited but mindful of the mammoth tasks ahead.

Originally from Middledrift in Eastern Cape, Fihla arrived in New Brighton township with his parents in 1945, at the age of 12.

He has lived in the “friendly city” ever since, he says, building his own family comprising his wife, two children and five grandchildren.

He has been a Member of Parliament since 1994.

His primary focus will be service delivery.

He says: “I want to make service delivery move faster?.?.?.?I am up to the challenge of running the metro and not a stranger to the region, and know the terrain very well.”

He will be sworn in formally tomorrow along with his deputy, Chippa Gcolomba, during a special council meeting.

Only after that will he reveal what his plans are, he says.

According to him, his age is no impediment to the job.

“I have been in Parliament for years dealing with complex issues and laws of this country. I don’t see anything troubling me in terms of running a lower structure. I have the experience and am aware of the problems faced by the city. As for my age, that is a non-issue,” he says.

But his job won’t be easy.

Fihla already had to make some tough decisions this week about violent protests that have engulfed Motherwell, as residents of NU29 attacked eight municipal buses, setting two of them alight.

The residents are demanding houses after metro officials allegedly burnt down their shacks, which were built illegally on council land.

Nelson Mandela Bay regional secretary Zandisile Qupe says “Oom Ben” would bring stability and much needed experience and expertise.

The DA’s leader in the metro, Leon de Villiers, says while he welcomes Fihla’s appointment, he has reservations given his age.

“I am not sure if an 81-year-old can lead this metro, given the unique challenges we have – but then again, everyone deserves a chance.”

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