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Five are being disciplined, two have been suspended, two have had their contracts ended, and one has resigned. This is the current state of the eThekwini municipality’s top management structure.
Since city manager S’bu Sithole took over in February there has been an exodus of top staff, most of them perceived to be allied to former municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe.
The leadership squabbles and resignations have led to opposition parties and local government experts questioning who is running Durban.
Their concern is that the “purge” could lead to a lack of “institutional memory” and impact on service.
DA caucus leader Tex Collins said the city was not working: “There will be huge gaps with the number of officials leaving. This is a crisis; who is going to head up procurement? The city has to buy goods. The city can’t lose so many senior managers in two months and expect to function.”
MF exco councillor Patrick Pillay said: “The scenario at eThekwini speaks volumes of what’s been happening.”
Last Friday saw the most recent exit of two more deputy city managers, leaving five of the seven key posts vacant.
However, municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng insisted: “There is no crisis.”
The municipality, he said, was stable because of “leadership at different levels who are ready to fill in wherever a gap arises”.
The latest to leave were Derek Naidoo (infrastructure and human settlements) and Bheki Cyril Mkhize (safety and security).
In addition, Krish Kumar, deputy city manager for the treasury, is under investigation. It is the departments which were under Naidoo, Kumar and Mkhize that appear to be most affected.
Sithole is being urged to act swiftly and fill the vacancies in his top management structure.
Sithole has been under pressure to act on the recommendations of the Manase report, which followed an investigation into financial irregularities.
Questions are being asked as to why certain departments are being cleaned out more vigorously than others and if this has anything to do with the frosty relationship between Sithole and Sutcliffe. Sithole had been acting city manager before Sutcliffe got the job 10 years ago.
After Sutcliffe was appointed city manager Sithole was offered the post of deputy city manager in charge of governance by Sutcliffe. But he left the job after a short while, claiming Sutcliffe had written him a letter informing him of the impending termination of his services.
Sutcliffe, however, denied firing Sithole. Sithole was reported as saying there were issues with Sutcliffe’s management style.
“At the moment there are (some departments where there are) no decision-makers. This puts the municipality in limbo and most of those who are acting are so nervous and are trying hard to please, which can result in further problems,” said local government expert Louis de Clercq. The situation was cause for concern because there was no assurance that the officials in acting positions had the capacity to maintain the same level of service.
Although the municipality recently received a national award for building low-cost houses, that department is one of those that could be most affected by the loss of senior staff.
So far, it has lost the services of Naidoo as well as housing head Cogi Pather, who reported to him. Pather resigned after being fingered in the Manase report. His deputy, Yunus Sacoor, faces disciplinary charges.
The city’s safety and security portfolio has also been left rudderless since Mkhize’s departure. Eugene Nzama, head of the metro police, is on special leave while the municipality investigates allegations against him.
During last week’s in-camera council meeting, it emerged that internal disciplinary charges had been brought against Kumar, and the head of the geographical information and policy unit, Jacquie Subban, for transgressions outlined by Manase.
Procurement head Thembinkosi Shezi, who reports to Kumar, as well as the deputy head of procurement policy and support services, Andre Pietersen, are also under scrutiny as a result of the Manase report.
Lilian Develing of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association in Durban said the competency of the people left was a concern.
“The city has been understaffed for so long and is only left with political appointees,” she said.
Glen Robbins, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Development Studies, said while the departure of skilled officials posed a risk it was also important that new talent and forms of expertise were brought in every few years.
“What will determine a crisis is how the city acts to allocate responsibilities to new people in the future.
“Clearly this is a blow to any bureaucracy, to lose that number of people in a short space of time,” he said.