OPINION | The fall, the rise and collapse of Nelson Mandela Bay

Nelson Mandela Bay city hall on June 20, 2018 in Port Elizabeth.
Nelson Mandela Bay city hall on June 20, 2018 in Port Elizabeth.
Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Lulama Zenzile

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro has undergone several changes over the years, depending on who had control of the municipality, writes Andrew Whitfield. 

The last decade in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality is a tragic story of how a city, entirely captured and bled dry by a criminal syndicate, was turned around over a short space of time by a clean and efficient administration led by a DA coalition, only to be recaptured by the ANC through their proxy, UDM Executive Mayor Mongameli Bobani, at the end of 2018.

Today Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) is governed by interim mayor, Tshonono Buyeye, National Treasury is withholding critical funding, and the City faces the prospect of being placed under administration.

To understand how Nelson Mandela Bay has been brought to its knees, it is important to reflect on the ANC’s term in office in NMB 2011 to 2016 which was characterised by political instability, gross financial mismanagement, maladministration and institutionalised corruption. ANC factions fought endlessly over control of the municipality’s finances and tender processes bringing the metro to its knees culminating in political change at the polls in 2016.

Between 2011 and 2016, the revolving doors of cadre deployment at City Hall churned out three mayors and five municipal managers in five years. This dangerous game of musical chairs created unprecedented levels of instability within the administration cultivating the fertile ground required for deep rooted corruption.

Wasteful expenditure

During the same period, the ANC gutted the metro’s finances with ruthless precision, resulting in increased levels of irregular and wasteful expenditure by officials and the inability to spend municipal budgets. In just one financial year, 2015/16, this combination of unbridled corruption and rank incompetence resulted in under expenditure of R366.5 million.

In order to stem the serious cash-flow crisis the metro was facing, the ANC had been hiking rates and tariffs by double-digit figures for at least a decade. Ratepayers and businesses in the city were buckling under the pressure of these increased rates and declining delivery while the city resembled a war zone of incomplete projects and filth.

The ANC, in their efforts to fully capture the local state, deliberately disabled the municipal administration creating a network of competing criminal syndicates of rent seeking ANC cadres whose patronage network became so deeply entrenched in the functions of the municipality that it was as if they were a parallel administration.

The desperate deployment of Danny Jordaan one year before the election was too little too late and in 2016 the DA received the largest share of votes (46.7%), a coalition government was assembled and in just two years achieved significant progress under difficult circumstances.

Under the leadership of Executive Mayor Athol Trollip, the coalition moved swiftly to right the sinking ship. Focusing on the finances was key and this led to 90% of the capital budget being spent in 2017/18 and 93% in 2016/17– the highest in nearly a decade. The DA led coalition also spent 100% of EPWP funding, the Urban Settlements Development Grant (USDG) grant and the Integrated City Development Grant in 2017/18.

Prudent financial management led to single figure tariff increases for rate payers, R373 million in windfall funding from the National Treasury and a credit rating upgrade from ratings agency Moody’s. By 2018 NMB was liquid with over R2.5 billion in the bank boasting a AAA credit rating which, together with the City of Cape Town, was the highest in the country.

Addressing years of infrastructure neglect, R300 million was allocated in the budget for the tarring and resurfacing of roads across the metro.

What had previously resembled a war zone now resembled a busy construction site as infrastructure projects were realised and services were delivered. Money was being spent on what it was intended for and confidence from the public was at an all-time high.

The South African Customer Satisfaction Index ranked NMB the second least trusted Metro in the country in 2016. By 2018 NMB had moved from second least trusted to the second most trusted Metro government in South Africa on the same index.

Mongameli Bobani

Trollip, determined to clean up a corrupt administration moved swiftly to terminate more than R650 million in corrupt contracts, suspending officials and opening mayoral committee meetings and tender adjudication processes to the public. These clean-up efforts exposed a fatal fault line in the coalition government when it became apparent that the values of good governance were antithetical to the values of the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani.

Bobani’s removal from the coalition in 2018 set in motion a chain of events which saw the ANC’s criminal syndicate recapture the council and administration of NMB using Bobani as their proxy. This led to the rapid establishment of the so-called black caucus which embarked upon a racially charged campaign highlighted by the EFF threatening to "cut the throat of whiteness" in reference to Trollip.

Overnight, the "black caucus" smeared good governance as racist and the end goal was the dismantling of a coalition of good governance to be replaced by a coalition of corruption – the criminal state.

Trollip was removed as Mayor in August 2018, bringing an end to the DA-led coalition and Bobani became the city’s first citizen, or "number one" if you will. His first move was to award a drain cleaning tender to SMMEs worth over R20 million now known as the "Great Drain Heist". Since the award of that tender, more than 18 people have been killed in what the police have described as "hits" bearing all the hallmarks of politically motivated killings.

The revolving doors of cadre deployment were back at City Hall as Bobani suspended the permanent city manager and recycled numerous acting city managers to try to find one that would do his bidding.

As the saying goes, there is no honour amongst thieves. It was therefore not long before competing criminal interests in the ANC clashed and Bobani was removed from office in December 2019. The council elected an interim mayor whose party, the African Independent Congress (AIC) has just one seat on council. He has a shadow in the ANC’s infamous jug wielding councillor, Andile Lungisa, who is always by his side. The interim mayor, aided by Lungisa, unilaterally installed controversial acting city manager, Mvuleni Mapu, who is alleged to be involved in corrupt activities stretching back over a decade. Mapu, who is currently facing disciplinary charges, plays a prominent role in the book, How to steal a City by Crispian Olver

Administration on the cards

The full recapture of NMB was now complete but ANC factions remain divided over who should inherit the spoils as the provincial government now swoops in to place the city under administration. National Treasury, knows this story all too well and is withholding nearly R1 billion in grant funding from the metro until the council elects a permanent Mayor, appoints a qualified city manager and implement a raft of resolutions.

Achieving progress that lasts, takes time, even more so if its predecessor was chaos and corruption. What is clear though, from the last five years, is that progress is possible in NMB – even under challenging coalition circumstances. It is possible to right the sinking ship and move it forward if your compass is calibrated by the principles of good governance. I remain convinced that the DA can move Nelson Mandela Bay forward again.

- Andrew Whitfield is a DA Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the DA in the Eastern Cape. Between 2016 and 2018 he served as Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Development in Nelson Mandela Bay.

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