How to Steal a City: the ANC's desperate election battle in NMB

How to Steal a City by Crispian Olver (Jonathan Ball)
How to Steal a City by Crispian Olver (Jonathan Ball)

How to Steal a City

Crispian Olver

Jonathan Ball

246 pages


Besides crippling divisions, our campaign had another serious problem: two months before the local election, the Nelson Mandela Bay region had no money to campaign. While the national office had sent election posters and backing boards – which our branches flatly refused to use, as they carried Jacob Zuma’s face – it did not provide any funds.

Nor did the provincial ANC. The region was on its own. The election offices in each ward had no telephones, stationery, computers or internet access. We didn’t have transport or catering for the volunteers. There was no money for a proper communications campaign. It wasn’t clear how we were meant to run an election with so little. The situation was dire.

In late May, Nceba Faku [former ANC regional chair] told me that the ANC lacked the organisation and strategy to win. I began to feel that the party had lost the will to govern, and that its continuing disarray and factionalism would scuttle the campaign.

Donny Nadison [Regional Task Team Treasurer] maintained his position that we shouldn’t channel any resources through the ANC itself, as this would empower forces hostile to Danny; also, the provincial ANC was able to pull funds from the region’s central bank account. Instead, he instructed, we should direct all resources into a new trust account he had created to finance the campaign, while keeping the RTT leaders informed.

Whenever I pressed him on the funding situation, Danny undertook to meet potential donors and repeatedly promised to raise money from businessman Patrice Motsepe. Yet, even though his own position was at stake and he was best placed to tap potential donors, he seemed extraordinarily reluctant to do so. Perhaps he was worried about compromising his integrity, or he thought that the ANC’s national office would come up with a plan. To this day, I still don’t know what he was thinking. But I was unable to bring him back into the real world.

By the end of June, I had no confidence in the ability of the ANC to organise the election. I didn’t know how we could move forward without funds. In desperation, the ANC used the councillors’ discretionary funds to register voters. Elections staff pressured councillors to use their offices, which had phones and printers, for campaign purposes. I even asked a number of senior managers in the metro to assist us by tapping their personal networks for donations. Although I was not asking them to use their position to swing deals, but rather to fundraise in their personal capacity, it was inappropriate.

This prompted Johann Mettler to issue a stern warning to all of his managers: ‘It was brought to my attention that you or your staff are being instructed to attend meetings at the head office of a political party in this city. I am formally instructing you and your staff to desist from attending such meetings. I have raised this matter with the Executive Mayor and that is also his instruction.’

He was absolutely right. The party and the metro administration had to be kept separate, but ANC activists were shocked. They were not used to working that way.

As election day approached, my sense of desperation and panic mounted. The financial situation became so bad that the ANC regional office failed to pay its utility bill, and the municipality sent officials to switch off the lights. I contacted a senior Electricity official in the metro administration to give us some latitude. When I explained the party’s financial crisis, the official told me about a renewable energy investor who wanted us to facilitate an engagement with the Minister of Energy – and who was prepared to put a large donation on the table.

I didn’t believe him. Even in light of my earlier experience with ANC fundraising, this seemed too far-fetched. I knew that getting ministerial meetings and approvals was a long and arduous process.

But we were desperate. Bicks [Ndoni, Deputy Mayor] contacted one of the minister’s advisors, and we were told she was willing to engage the investor and support the project. The deal fell into place, a bit too easily for my liking. It was unusual for government wheels to turn this fast. I made arrangements for the funds to be paid into the trust account Donny had set up. From being a flag bearer for clean governance and for a clear separation between party and government, I could not shake the feeling that I had gone over to the dark side.

When the donation was transferred, I discovered that the promised funds had been reduced by almost a fifth. This surprised me, but not nearly as much as when the electricity official offered me a facilitation fee for my troubles. He explained that the missing funds were earmarked for the advisors and officials who had facilitated the transaction. I flatly refused, and to this day have no idea what happened to that ‘fee’.

* This extract was taken from How to Steal a City by Crispian Olver (Jonathan Ball). The election referred to is the 2016 municipal election, in which the ANC lost the Nelson Mandela Bay metro to the DA. 

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