Durban – Did eThekwini council undermine the Local Government Municipal Structures Act (LGMSA) by snubbing Deputy Mayor Fawzia Peer in the absence of Mayor Zandile Gumede?
The Executive Committee at the city hall came to a standstill when DA leader Zwakele Mncwango requested confirmation that Mondli Mthembu, chairperson of the Human Settlement and Infrastructure Development Committee, was appointed acting mayor in the absence of Gumede.
The matter was not on the agenda but council Speaker Lekgoa William Mapena took it upon himself to handle the question.
He argued there was nothing that had been done which was against the provisions of the Act, and that Peer would continue her duties.
Mncwango would have none of it and insisted that a direct answer to his question be given.
Peer sat motionless while the councillors tackled each other about the legalities of the appointment.
“Did the mayor appoint Mthembu in an acting capacity? Please give a straight yes or no. There are provisions in the Act that in the absence of the mayor, the deputy is appointed in an acting capacity. Only in the absence of the deputy can someone else other than the deputy be appointed in an acting capacity,” Mncwango said.
Peer broke her silence telling the councillors she would have difficulty presiding over the matter.
“Councillors, you are putting me in an awkward position now. Can we proceed with the agenda? It will be difficult for me to preside over the matter because you are talking about me,” she said.
The council proceeded with items on the agenda.
Gumede is in New York attending the C40, a global conference on climate change. She is its vice-president.
Later on Tuesday, Mncwango vowed to report the matter to the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department so that the decision could be reversed with immediate effect, before Mthembu “takes any action as acting mayor”.
“The DA categorically objects to councillor Mthembu standing in for Mayor Gumede because Deputy Mayor Peer ought to be delegated acting mayor powers while the mayor is away. We are aware that Gumede snubbed Peer because she belongs to another ANC faction and lacks trust in her. Once again, the ANC’s factional politics is rearing its ugly head in the running of government and now resulting in unlawful acts,” Mncwango said.
Section 49 (2) of the LGMSA provides that: “The deputy mayor exercises the powers and performs the duties of the mayor if the mayor is absent or not available or if the office of the mayor is vacant. The mayor may delegate duties to the deputy mayor”.
Before the 2016 local government elections, Peer was reported to be an ally of former mayor James Nxumalo. She reportedly made a comeback and is said to enjoy a good working relationship with Gumede.
Peer would not be drawn into commenting on the matter.
However, an ANC council member said Gumede had acted illegally.
“Letters of notification to this effect were given to all Exco members. What happened is rude and the legislation was contravened without an explanation,” said the member on condition of anonymity.
Speaker Mapena on Tuesday night that confirmed the appointment of Mthembu as deputy mayor but claimed it was just a contingency plan.
“The mayor will be away for a week so the appointment was made in case the deputy mayor is not available, then we know there is someone available,” he said.
He denied that Peer was snubbed.
Dr Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst, said factionalism in the ANC appeared to be behind Gumede’s move to overlook her deputy.
“In the absence of any explanation, one would assume that the mayor is not demonstrating confidence in her deputy.
“Her (Gumede’s) move could be factional which leads to her mistrusting her deputy.
“Remember that Zandile’s rise was marred by controversy with regards to allegiances.”
Attempts to get comment from the provincial ANC were unsuccessful on Tuesday night.