Mongameli Bobani. Picture: THE HERALD
Mongameli Bobani. Picture: THE HERALD

Nelson Mandela Bay’s political parties have put their ideological differences aside and joined forces in a common quest: to push mayor Mongameli Bobani out of office.

But Bobani, whose first name, Mongameli, means "ruler" when loosely translated from Xhosa, seems unperturbed by the moves against him, saying he’s rolling out service delivery programmes across Eastern Cape’s largest metro with his R12bn budget.

Following the watershed local government elections in 2016, the DA won 57 seats in the 120-seat local council, the ANC 50 and the EFF 6. The UDM secured two and the African Independent Congress (AIC), United Front (UF), COPE, ACDP and Patriotic Alliance (PA) each won a single seat.

A coalition between the DA, EFF, UDM and smaller political parties installed the DA’s Athol Trollip as mayor, with the UDM’s Bobani as his deputy. But the two soon fell out over governance issues and the direction the metro should take.

When Bobani was booted out as deputy mayor following a controversial vote of no confidence in August 2017, the battle lines were drawn.

The EFF did not take kindly to the move. So, in a dramatic turn of events a year later, Trollip was removed from the mayoral office — and replaced by Bobani.

EFF leader Julius Malema argued at the time that the party had voted for Trollip’s removal not because he was corrupt, but because it was symbolically "cutting the throat of whiteness".

A triumphant Bobani invited journalists to the mayor’s office — now his — where, giggling, he spun around in Trollip’s old seat, remarking: "It’s a very nice chair!"

Now the tables have again turned.

The DA, ANC and COPE, among other parties, have apparently been holding secret talks to oust Bobani.

Nqaba Bhanga, a former ANC and COPE member who now represents the DA on the council and serves as the party’s Eastern Cape leader, confirms that talks are under way. "We are not only talking to the ANC, we are talking to all the political parties in the local council: the ANC, UF, AIC, EFF and PA," he says. "Everybody agrees in Nelson Mandela Bay that we have a mad mayor here who does not follow the rule of law."

By way of example, Bhanga refers to a series of raids conducted by the Hawks at Bobani’s home and office in April.

The Hawks first raided Bobani’s office back in October last year, seizing documents and computers during the operation.

After the April raids, Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi was quoted as saying the raids related to allegations of procurement fraud, corruption and money laundering in the municipality.

Says Bhanga: "This is a first for the city, whereby a sitting mayor’s office and home get raided by the Hawks. He doesn’t inspire political and business confidence, or community confidence. He is a threat to all of us."

Bhanga describes Bobani as a "loose cannon" who, as mayor, has failed to appoint a CFO and directors for the metro.

"We are doing everything in our power to make sure this mayor goes.

"The ANC in the province and region is not happy with the mayor."

However, he says while everyone is rooting for Bobani to be ousted, "they are scared to shoot — hence we [the DA] are leading the way in pulling the trigger".

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

Enter PA councillor Marlon Daniels. He was instrumental in Bobani being ousted as deputy mayor in 2017, and, in April this year, tried unsuccessfully to have him removed as mayor through a motion of no confidence.

Just two months later, Bobani was in a quandary: pass the R12bn budget, or risk the metro being placed under administration — which would have meant a de facto ANC takeover.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, he changed his cabinet to bring the PA onside, appointing Daniels as mayoral committee member for economic development.

Bobani told FM sister publication Business Day at the time that the reshuffle would "give us enough numbers to pass the budget".

Now Daniels confirms that talks about Bobani’s position are under way, but says: "I can’t divulge what those talks are saying.

"Look, the position around him remaining as mayor or not is a very sensitive topic. Yes, there is a motion to remove him and the speaker [Buyelwa Mafaya, who couldn’t be reached for comment], which has been brought by the DA and seconded by the ACDP. But those motions have not been before council," says Daniels.

"You can run, but you can’t hide," he says, adding no further explanation.

Other political parties have been less cryptic. COPE spokesperson Dennis Bloem says: "We are very clear that this mayor must be removed because it is just a joke, what they are doing there. He came through the back door to take over the council. Our stance is very clear: he must go. We can’t have such a person, who is tainted, and has a lot of allegations over his head [holding the position of mayor]."

For ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe, the Hawks’ raid of Bobani’s home raises flags. "You must remember that there have been a number of complaints against the mayor."

Bobani says he is not aware of any plan to remove him as mayor and that his party, as part of the governing coalition, is simply "dealing with daily operations of the city".

"Any other talks outside that, we are not aware of. We are busy ensuring that our communities are getting their services," he says.

If there are indeed talks to unseat him, "we will cross that bridge when we get there".

Bobani has at least one person in his corner: controversial ANC councillor Andile Lungisa, who says previous motions to remove Bobani have been defeated. "We have a majority in council and we have always [defeated] plans to remove the mayor through council votes."

Everybody agrees in Nelson Mandela Bay that we have a mad mayor here who does not follow the rule of law
Nqaba Bhanga

Lungisa accuses the DA of opportunism, saying the party is no longer in government in the metro and should be content with occupying the opposition benches.

The ANC hadn’t taken a public position at the time of going to press. When contacted for comment, Nceba Faku, chair of the party’s regional task team and a former mayor of the metro, referred the matter to ANC provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukayithobi, "because this matter is being handled at provincial level".

Ngcukayithobi could not be reached, and did not respond to a text message asking for comment.

Also uncertain is Bobani’s support from the AIC, whose sole councillor, Thsonono Buyeye, is deputy mayor.

AIC secretary-general Mahlubanzima Jafta says the party has not been engaged by any political party regarding Bobani’s possible removal. He won’t be drawn on what position the AIC will take, should it be formally approached on the matter, other than to say: "We are kingmakers there. The opposing factions are sorely dependent on our support. Nothing can be achieved without us."

For Nelson Mandela University political analyst Ongama Mtimka, it is the ANC that will determine how the matter plays out.

"The discussions taking place at provincial level might gain some traction locally and result in some form of a collaboration between the DA and ANC," says Mtimka.

"If it happens, that will be the final coming to pass of what was always … inevitable [the removal of Bobani] … given the fact that the mayor comes from a minority party which has two seats in council."

Mtimka describes the coalition agreement as a "nonsustainable power base governing on borrowed time".

The EFF, for the moment, would seem to be out of the fray.

Malema shocked the political community when he announced in June that the party would no longer vote with the DA or the ANC in any municipality.

He said the EFF would participate in debates and make input in council meetings but "if anything requires voting, the EFF will abstain".

What it means

If the ANC and DA can come to an agreement, Bobani is sure to go — regardless of the EFF position on the matter

That stance was undermined last week, when the red berets voted with the ANC to remove DA mayor Johan van der Hoven and speaker Kallie Louw in Matzikama municipality in Vredendal. (It has yet to say whether its official position has changed.)

In Nelson Mandela Bay a marriage of convenience between the ANC and DA could put paid to Bobani’s continued mayoral ambitions — with or without the EFF.

Public Affairs Research Institute researcher Crispian Olver, author of How to Steal A City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay, tells the FM he has always viewed the metro’s coalition agreement as "unstable and unlikely to last".

"I guess the real question is: what will replace it, because no party has an outright majority."

While he believes a coalition could potentially turn the city’s situation around, its partners would need to be aligned around a common agenda.

"Even with the [previous] DA-led coalition, some of the partners, like Bobani, had a very different view of [how to fix] the corruption problem.

"I would hope that between the main opposition parties they would bury their differences and find a solution," says Olver.

"Another two years of instability before the [2021 local government] elections would be disastrous for the city."