Mthembu assumed the reins - to much controversy - while incumbent Zandile Gumede was in New York attending the C40, a global conference on climate change. She is the organisation’s current vice-president.
Mthembu, who has kept a low media profile, officially serves in the city as the chairperson of the human settlement and infrastructure development committee.
In a letter dated March 10, 2017, Gumede appointed Mthembu to act on her behalf for the course of this week.
The letter said: “I hereby appoint you Acting Mayor with authority to perform all the functions of my office from March 12, 2017, to March 17, 2017, as I will be in New York, United States, on municipal business.”
The letter was not given to opposition parties serving on the executive committee.
Gumede made the appointment while ignoring her deputy Fawzia Peer, who by law should stand in for the mayor when she is unavailable.
The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has labelled the appointment “unlawful”.
Zwakele Mncwango, leader of the DA in the province,said: “Mayor Gumede has once again undermined the Local Government Municipal Structures Act which clearly states in Section 49 (2) 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’.”
But the DA is not the only party that is upset.
Even members of the ruling party have voiced concern, though none wanted to be named.
They said Mthembu had been in the party structures for a long time. He served in the then ANC North Durban region and in the Kwenza Malembe zone (Inanda).
According to party insiders, Gumede wanted Mthembu as her deputy after the ANC won eThekwini in the local government elections.
However the ANC deployment committee rejected this. Nevertheless, it was claimed Mthembu remained one of Gumede’s most trusted allies at Exco.
They said Gumede and Peer were friendly but Peer was not a part of Gumede’s inner circle.
James Nxumalo, the former eThekwini mayor, described the move as “strange” especially since it involved people who belonged to the same political party.
“From what I read in the news, rules were broken. The ANC deploys people to serve the citizens, and not to settle personal agendas.
“Normally when the mayor is away for a long time the deputy takes over the reins because they complement each other, and that’s why you have them both in the Mayor’s parlour.
“It is strange then that the mayor should overlook her deputy.” If both the mayor and her deputy were away, the next person who would step in would be the Speaker of the eThekwini Council, followed by the chief whip if the first three were unavailable.
“I think the mayor and her deputy should look into their working relationship and guard against those little things that might attract unnecessary negative attention to the council,” he said.
However, the ANC in the region was not concerned with the temporary appointment.
Bheki Ntuli, ANC eThekwini regional secretary, said Mthembu was appointed because there were planned party activities that might have required Peer’s attendance.
He said he could not make these activities public because they were organisational and not government activities.
“The mayor knew that she was going on a trip so she approached the leadership and tabled her plan and possible solution. We looked at her idea and possible solution and we said yes, she can go ahead. The ANC doesn’t dictate to the council,” he said.
Mthembu would not comment.
“I’d like not to talk about this matter because it is handled by the municipality at this stage. It’s about me but it will be out of order to comment at this stage,” he said.
Peer also declined to comment.
Lennox Mabaso, spokesman for the Co-operative Governance, and Traditional Affairs Department said the department read about the appointment in the newspapers.
“We are not privy to the details of this matter. We heard that there are people who were planning to write to us about the matter.
“All the queries should be directed to eThekwini Municipality,” Mabaso said.