Oil on troubled waters

2011-06-15 00:00

SOMETIMES I feel like I live in a parallel universe. Take yesterday's Witness for example. There was this interview with Msunduzi's new mayor Chris Ndlela who vowed to clean up KZN's capital city and aims to attract investors. It all sounded very normal and very encouraging.

The only problem is that while Ndlela was being interviewed there was a hall full of angry ANC members a stone's throw away from City Hall demanding that his deputy mayor, Alpha Shelembe, be sacked and protesting the manner in which a host of councillors were nominated.

One wonders who was thinking about investors during the turbulent nomination process when members of the Regional Executive Committee (REC) and their cronies were vying for positions as councillors.

Speaking of investors, it is worrying that there is a deafening silence from the local business community over the shenanigans at City Hall and one can't help feeling grateful to Cosatu for flying the flag of good governance.

With the ANC in turmoil in this uMgungundlovu district, known as the Moses Mabhida region, it is difficult to get away from beating the same old drum about what is going on in local government. The 2011 municipal election was supposed to be about new beginnings, starting on a clean slate to promote clean governance and fight corruption. However, what we have witnessed is completely baffling. There is a new mayor in the uMngeni Municipality who was not even on the list of ANC candidates, but who comes from the ranks of senior officials at the municipality. Most controversial is the bitter dispute raging at Msunduzi Municipality over Shelembe, Speaker Zonke Mbatha and some Executive Committee (Exco) members. They were part of the leadership that brought the municipality to the brink of collapse and are now back in the saddle. With this happening, the mayor talking about his list of priorities, while coming across as sincerely stated, somehow has a hollow ring.

A question many people ask is how it came to this. How did the REC get so powerful and is there any hope that the situation will improve?

The power of the REC goes back to a resolution taken at the ANC National Conference in Polokwane where it was agreed that RECs would have a say in submitting names for the positions of mayor, deputy mayor and speaker. According to sources, the local REC fought tooth and nail for these positions. Members of the REC felt that they had agreed to Ndlela, a Cosatu representative, being the mayor, so they wanted other positions for candidates of their choice. Some believe there were threats to make the region ungovernable if their demands were not granted. Many within the ANC believe that the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) gave up too easily and should have held out against the REC. Those who refused to give up were a grouping of local activists within the ranks of the ANC who decided it was time to use old struggle tactics to voice their protest. The group started a sit-in at the local REC offices. Spokesperson Sibongile Mkhize is one of the veterans of the Seven Days War in 1990. Her story, "I forgot to take off my nightgown for seven days" (The Witness, March 2000), recounted the days of madness and mayhem as the war hit Caluza.

Mkhize and her supporters were at the A. F. Wood hall yesterday to meet with the task team sent by the ANC nationally to investigate grievances over the selection of councillors. They joined a packed hall of disgruntled ANC members and, according to some insiders, it was a no-holds barred meeting where members spoke openly and frankly, even naming people allegedly guilty of tender manipulation, giving jobs to pals and threatening opponents. There were allegations made about money being paid to certain party honchos to buy positions of councillors or to become members of Exco. Many locals are hopeful that the national task team will sort out the problems and bring some level of normalcy to the region. Others are not leaving anything to chance and there is talk of continued protests with a planned protest march on Friday against the deployment of REC members to key positions in councils in the district.

So while Ndlela says he will be tackling service delivery head-on and paving the way to attract investments, I'm not quite with him. There's another realm out there, a parallel universe, where ANC offices are being burnt, guns may be drawn and money is allegedly changing hands under the table.

It's time for the task team, business, residents and ratepayer organisations to get involved. We need to make Ndlela's world our reality.

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