Makana Municipality’s new Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa has called for support in dealing with the serious challenges he faces in the position. His deployment was announced by the ANC’s Regional Executive Committee (REC) on Monday 17 December. There have been mixed reactions from Makhanda (Grahamstown) civil society organisations and politicians to the reshuffle of the Council’s top leadership – which the REC insists was not in response to mounting calls for the Council’s dissolution.
The ANC’s Sarah Baartman Region has removed Nomhle Gaga from the position, replacing her with Mpahlwa. Ward 5 councillor Luyanda Nase replaces Mabhuti Matyumza as Chief Whip and Yandiswa Vara remains as Speaker.
Filling out the key Mayoral Committee positions and chairing the portfolio committees will be Nombulelo Masoma (Corporate Services); Ramie Xonxa (Technical & Infrastructural Services); Nase (Finance); Phumla Matyumza (Community Safety and Social Services) and Mtutuzeli ‘Mabhuti’ Matyumza (Local Economic Development and Tourism).
Gaga has resigned as a councillor, meaning Mpahlwa now becomes the 17th councillor in the ANC caucus. There are eight DA councillors and two EFF council seats, only one of which is currently filled.
Mpahlwa will only officially become Mayor following a Special Council Meeting where councillors vote him on to the position. Because of the ANC’s deployment policies and the party’s majority in Council, his appointment as Mayor is not likely to meet any substantial challenge.
Mpahlwa, a political scientist and government consultant, was the first mayor of the post-1994 Grahamstown-Rhini Transitional Local Council. Describing him as having integrity, commitment and a teamwork ethic, the REC statement lists his credentials as including serving as a member of the Executive Committee of the Western Region District Council (now Sarah Baartman District Municipality); chairperson of the Board of Directors of Algoa Bus Company; accounting officer of the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, receiving three unqualified Audit opinions from the Auditor General.
Mpahlwa majored in International Relations, obtaining a post-graduate diploma in IR from Rhodes University and a Masters Degree in the same from Nelson Mandela University.
He has been deployed at a time when the municipality is in crisis, with ballooning debt, collapsing infrastructure and service delivery and growing calls for the dissolution of the Council as its credibility crumbles in the eyes of many residents.
An unprecedented local alliance between social justice activists, businesspeople and ordinary residents last month saw more than 21 000 sign a petition calling for the Council to be dissolved, and hundreds from across the city taking to the streets to deliver it to the city hall. The reshuffle announcement came just two days before a planned vigil outside the city hall, where protesters will renew their call for dissolution.
“Well yes, it is quite daunting,” Mpahlwa admitted of the challenges when Grocott’s Mail interviewed him on Monday, hours after the announcement.
Grocott’s Mail asked Mpahlwa how he intended to go about repairing the things that are broken – from infrastructure to basic trust – and what his leadership style is.
“First I will listen and look. I need to get a sense of the challenges. I will ask the current councillors for their analysis of the challenges and what they think should be done, as well as managers and ordinary workers in the municipality.”
“My management style is consultative, not big-stick,” Mpahlwa said.
He also intends to engage with “civil society broadly” and other actors in Makhanda.
“Once I’ve spoken to people I will have a sense of the challenges. I’m going to work with everybody – together as a collective we need to turn the situation around.
“It can be done,” Mpahlwa said. “It’s not a quick fix. We’re going to have to have an implementable plan with time frames so we can all pull Makana Municipality out of the challenges it faces.
“I call on everybody to put aside their differences and get on with the task at hand. It’s going to take the people of Makhanda to think deep about how far their tolerance goes for littering, inefficiency and maladministration. We need to come together – Rhodes, business, educational institutions, with the municipality in the lead – and get back to basics to fix the problems. I really would like to say that this depends on all of us,” Mpahlwa said.
He emphasised that fixing many of the town’s issues depended entirely on budgets from the provincial and national government , including for water and sanitation upgrades.
There have been mixed reactions from local civic organisations to Mpahlwa’s deployment.
The Grahamstown Residents Association (GRA) and the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) were among those who supported the recent petition campaign calling for the Section 139(1)(c) dissolution of the Council.
The UPM’s Ayanda Kota called the reshuffle an insult.
“To only remove the mayor, but leave the Mayoral Committee, and leave all the other councillors when the call has been made to dissolve the Council – that’s an insult,” Kota said.
Kota said it was particularly distasteful that a woman (Nomhle Gaga) had been replaced with a man.
“This is not the first time a woman has been sacrificed by the ANC for it to achieve its goal. It’s sexist and patriarchal and we condemn it in the strongest terms.”
The Grahamstown Residents Association reserved judgment. Chairperson Philip Machanick said, “The GRA supported the call for administration because we were concerned that there was too little progress on serious action to turn around the municipality. While the new Municipal Manager [Moppo] Mene has been a breath of fresh air, we remain concerned that he was not getting the support he needed. We will reserve judgement on whether the new mayor represents real change; we wish him well but we need reassurance that this is the turnaround we are looking for.”
Leader of Makana’s DA Caucus in Council Mlindi Nhanha said, “The DA in Makana Municipality welcomes the long overdue announcement made by the ANC [Monday] to remove Councillor Nomhle Gaga as the Executive Mayor. It is worth noting that the DA has raised alarm about the incapacity of the former Executive Mayor and that culminated in us moving a notion of no confidence against her. Under strict ANC REC monitoring, councillors were instructed to tow the party line in total disregard of the needs of the voters.
“What is surprising to us is a failed ANC policy of recycling its failed cadres. We would have imagined that the ANC – since it claims to be the leader of society – would be bold enough to remove the entire Mayoral Committee and the Speaker,” Nhanha said. “The amount of rot and corruption that has found expression in Makana requires a complete overhaul of its leadership.
“We are preparing to close a rather sorry chapter in the history of our municipality, in which the municipality has gone bankrupt, service delivery ground to a halt and the voters completely ignored. We are hopeful but not so optimistic that this new chapter will bring about much needed changes in the Makana Municipality. The DA wish to commend all role players who have pulled together during this difficult period.”
An ANC insider with extensive knowledge of the municipality’s history, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had advice for Mpahlwa.
“Mzu is a good guy, but if he doesn’t get the necessary political support, [rogue councillors]will make life difficult for him.
“There are good and experienced people locally in the ANC who have been marginalised. What Mzu should do is make contact with them and use them as a kind of think tank. Other municipalities are doing that very successfully.
“Let’s face it, our ward committees are ineffectual. The rogue elements within local government have taken advantage of the fact that the ANC’s constitutional structures have been deliberately weakened.”
Procurement in high-budget areas was a prime target for abuse, the person said.
“There are policies and rules in place for procurement. But if you have councillors who are behaving unethically, you end up with problems. That’s why it’s so important for councillors to be educated. They need to be financially literate, as well as educated in policy and legislation.
The trouble was that in the reshuffle, the bad apples had been retained, the person said.
“We need a strong ANC. We also need a strong and vocal opposition.”
Nomhle Gaga had not yet responded to an invitation to comment by the time of publishing.
What the REC said about the reshuffle
In its statement announcing the reshuffle, the Sarah Baartman REC said it had been paying attention to local municipalities… “to affirm and ensure that service delivery at this sphere is the priority of all the deployees”.
“Makana Local Municipality has been faced with challenges recently which resulted in attempts to call for dissolution of the entire council,” the REC said. “…the Municipality is an ANC governed Municipality which means any dissolution or calls thereof indirectly undermine the leadership and capabilities of ANC to govern. Secondly the ANC still defines itself as a caring organisation which is a leader of society …[it is within its make-up to]listen when there are cries… about its governance outcomes…
“Contrary to the belief that ANC succumbed to pressure, especially from media for that matter, consultation and stakeholder engagements are a practice within the ANC… Following extensive consultations, assessment and review of current state of affairs within Makana Municipality, the ANC has decided to make changes in its deployment of the leadership in that Municipality. The changes will bring upon the much anticipated political leadership that will ensure that service delivery matters are attended to and that confidence to the institution is restored not only by the voters or citizens of Makana Municipality but also confidence of stakeholder and investors.”
The REC said the changes had taken into account expertise, experience, gender and continuity.
“Furthermore the changes will ensure that there is stability within the Municipality, strengthened administrative support and improved service delivery turnaround.”