Mayor, city manager ‘smoke peace pipe’

2013-05-26 06:00

Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality Executive Mayor Benson Fihla has assured residents of the beleaguered municipality that there was no bad blood between him and city manager Dr Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, after a feud between the two was aired in public this past week.

The two are both new in the metro, with Msengana-Ndlela appointed on March 1, while Fihla started 22 days later as mayor, replacing Zanoxolo Wayile, who was fired amid political instability, which forced the ANC to intervene.

Again, this week the ANC had to come to the rescue of the metro after Msengana-Ndlela wrote a scathing letter to Local Government and Traditional Affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane, accusing Fihla and Deputy Executive Mayor Chippa Ngcolomba of political interference.

Through its national executive committee deployee in the province, Derek Hanekom, and the provincial leadership led by chairperson Phumulo Masualle and Qoboshiyane, who is also a member of the provincial executive, the party had to move swiftly to restore peace between the two.

Fihla told City Press after the meeting that “everything has been sorted out between myself and that city manager. We have smoked the peace pipe.”

“Things have been normalised. It was just a case of not understanding who was accountable to whom,” he said.

Asked if he had exerted any undue political interference in the running of the administration of the metro, or expected the city manager to adhere to the “majority rules” doctrine even if it was procedurally flawed, as claimed in the letter to Qoboshiyane, penned by Msengana-Ndlela, he said he had never interfered with Msengana-Ndlela’s work or expected her to do things that were at odds with the law.

“It can’t be political interference when a city manager and a mayor disagree. I am just happy the matter has been resolved. We all put our cases in the meeting (on Thursday) and now everything has been cleared. We both agreed not to let our differences stand in the way of service delivery to our people,” said Fihla.

The tension between the two is understood to have embarrassed the ANC, which banked on them to bring stability, politically and administratively, in a metro that has seen service delivery suffering thanks to political infighting and corruption over several years.

Msengana-Ndlela, a former director-general in the department of local government was headhunted by the former mayor, Wayile, and was unanimously appointed by council while Fihla was deployed by the ANC to bring stability in the metro.

But the honeymoon between the two was short-lived when Msengana-Ndlela wrote to Qoboshiyane.

She told Qoboshiyane in a letter last week that matters were so grave that she actually feared for her life.

Central to her concerns was an insistence by Fihla (81) for Msengana-Ndlela to appoint 16 Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association members as bodyguards to Fihla and Ngcolomba at a cost of R4.3 million, which was not budgeted for.

She also alleged that Fihla wanted to replace executive directors with his own people without her knowledge and that her efforts to address supply-chain-management issues were being derailed by Fihla and his deputy – which meant her attempts to protect the interests of the municipality against irregular and unlawful expenditure were being deliberately blocked.

Political parties had mixed reactions on the issue, with the United Democratic Movement (UDM) questioning the way Msengana-Ndlela was appointed in the first place.

Mongameli Bobani, who is the UDM’s party leader in the metro said their lawyers were busy finalising court papers to interdict Msengana-Ndlela from operating as city manager, because her appointment was flawed.

Bobani also criticised the city manager for writing to Qoboshiyane and going public with the matter without bringing it to the council first.

But Democratic Alliance spokesperson on local government, Dacre Haddon, said his party supported Msengana-Ndlela all the way.

He said the recent spat between Msengana-Ndlela and Fihla proved she was not a pushover, but an independent thinker who refused to be micromanaged by the ANC.

“Officials in municipalities are there to serve everyone. We support her. She is strong and does not want to be dictated to by anybody. She is also very highly qualified and well-respected. She looks like somebody who knows what she is doing,” said Haddon.

Zandisile Qupe, the regional secretary of the ANC in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro said he was satisfied that the matter, which he downplayed as just a misunderstanding, had been resolved amicably.

“MEC Qoboshiyane took the responsibility to say he will closely monitor the situation at the metro to make sure there are good working relations between them (mayor and city manager),” said Qupe.

Qoboshiyane and Dr Msengana-Ndlela could not be reached for comment.

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