Ousted Nelson Mandela Bay deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani
Hugh Masekela says something hilarious in the documentary film, Amandla. The fondness for song in African life, he narrates, may border on obsession.

He makes an example of African warriors. They sang even when they could have just attacked their enemies by surprise.

“That’s how we lost to the British invaders”, Bro Hugh says, cracking himself up in the process.

I was reminded of Bro Hugh’s humour by the row that erupted at the Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) municipality on August 24. That session of council voted out Mongameli Bobani as deputy mayor, but the proceedings were far from normal.

The voting happened just as members of four other parties were singing and walking out of the chamber. They complained that the motion of no confidence in Bobani, a local leader of United Democratic Movement (UDM), was not part of the agenda. Rather, it was sprung up in council.

Their walkout was a protest and an attempt to block the vote. Jonathan Lawack, the Speaker of council, however, insists that the motion passed procedurally.

Because they were “busy” singing, the protesters just didn’t walk out quick enough to deny the meeting of a quorum. Instead of storming out , the protesting parties, including the ANC and the EFF, just had to sing and dance.

Lawack was quick to initiate the process of ejecting Bobani out of office. On the same day, Lawack wrote to the city manager, Johann Mettler, instructing him to “Please attend to all operational matters related” to Bobani vacating his office.

Just after 8am the next morning, Mettler informed Bobani that his salary, benefits and allowances, official transport and security detail have all been “discontinued with effect 23h59 on August 24”.

He was given an ultimatum of “16h00 on Monday” to vacate his office.

Bobani is now in court challenging his dismissal. It was unprocedural, he protests.

His argument is that the council did not quorate nor was the motion tabled properly. The court will soon hear the case, and may well rule to return Bobani as deputy mayor. But, that will not remedy the problem at the metro. What the NMB faces is a personality and a political problem.

Bobani is troublesome. He says one thing, but does something else.

Consider his role, for instance, in the resignation of the Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela as city manager in 2013. She had been head-hunted to fill a role that was vacant for almost four years. Her appointment was a feat and applauded by everyone.

She has a PhD in local development and previously headed provincial and national departments of local government.

Msengana-Ndlela was perfect for the Nelson Mandela Bay. And, Bobani agreed, but only temporarily.

Hardly three months into her job, Msengana-Ndlela received threats of legal action from Bobani.

He charged that she was not properly qualified. What she didn’t have was some obscure certificate that someone of her qualifications and experience did not need to prove her competence.

In this bid, Bobani had the support of the ANC - the same party that enticed her to the metro. Msengana-Ndlela had cancelled an improper contract and refused to hire people the metro did not need nor budgeted for.

The point of Bobani’s legal action, in cahoots with the ANC, was to harass Msengana-Ndlela into resigning. They even threatened her with violence. She left after six months in the job, and successfully sued for constructive dismissal.

Earlier this year, Bobani attempted a similar move on city manager, Mettler. He wanted Mettler fired and have his competitor, Vuyo Mlokoti, appointed instead.

Mlokoti had interviewed for the post and was considered the best candidate. Athol Trollip, the mayor, changed the decision to offer Mlokoti the job upon finding out that he had not disclosed all the information about his previous employment. Mlokoti took the mayor to court, but lost the case. The court vindicated Trollip’s decision.

Bobani’s open challenge against his mayor, with whom they’re in an official coalition, was a clear indication that their partnership would not work. He sided with the ANC, threatening to collapse the coalition government. All this started about the third month into the coalition government.

Bobani counters that the fault is not his alone. Trollip, he complains, is a “bully” and “runs the municipality like a farm”. He doesn’t consult, as is required by the ‘Co-Governance Agreement’, signed by the coalition partners.

Bantu Holomisa, UDM president, accused Trollip of unfairly taking all the credit for what the coalition government has achieved in the last year.

Holomisa’s gripe is not unjustified. The DA cannot achieve anything in the NMB without other coalition partners. If there’s any credit or blame, it is due to all parties. But, this is just an ideal situation. Realistically, it is difficult to achieve.

Whether the DA is able to get majority support in the 2021 local elections, will depend on how well it distinguishes itself this term, not only from how the ANC previously governed, but also from its current coalition partners.

While it may not say it publicly, the DA wants to impress even the supporters of the coalition partners so that they vote for it. The DA’s objective, therefore, is to take as much credit as possible.

Today the DA controls most municipalities in the Western Cape.

While trying to outmanoeuvre partners, the DA finds has itself in a stalemate. It only has 60 votes, which means it lacks a majority in a 120-seat council. Trollip can’t pass motions such as approving a financial allocation towards preparations for hosting the Ironman Championship scheduled for next year.

This is an ideal crisis for the EFF. It holds six seats, which, together with the DA’s 56, makes an easy majority of 62 seats. Julius Malema’s party can trade its votes for significant concessions towards the 36% unemployed and landless residents.

The question that the EFF needs to answer is whether it grows its lowly 5% support base by plunging the metro into a crisis, or delivering to its constituency?

* Ndletyana is an associate professor of politics at the University Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent