South Africa

Zikalala handpicks next eThekwini city boss, sources say

The ANC’s deployment committee in KwaZulu-Natal has placed an inexperienced official as the frontrunner in the hunt for eThekwini’s next municipal manager.

At least two sources in the party’s provincial working committee have confirmed that three names have been shortlisted for the job.

The Mail & Guardian understands that Ray Nkonyeni municipal manager Maxwell Mbili is the frontrunner and is alleged to be Premier Sihle Zikalala’s preferred candidate.

The sources said that this was made clear by Zikalala when the deployment committee met this week to finalise the shortlist.

The appearance of Mbili’s name at the top of the ANC’s list raised eyebrows, with some party leaders saying it will have a negative effect on the ANC in council.

The ANC lost the metro in the 2021 local government elections and was forced to make deals with opposition parties to remain at the helm.

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One provincial working committee member said that Mbili lacked experience. They argued that he had never been in charge of a metro, much less one with a budget of R50-billion that serves almost four million residents.

Ray Nkonyeni municipality is one of several poorly performing municipalities in the province. Once considered a tourist destination, the municipality, which falls under the South Coast’s Ugu district, has been accused of incompetence, fraud and corruption, which has led to a collapse of services.

Mbili currently handles a budget of R1.3-billion. Should he be appointed, the ill-experienced official will be in charge of the second-largest metro budget in the country.

“It’s clear that these interviews will have a predetermined outcome. Those with political control have made this decision and it’s clear this comes from the top,” one provincial leader told the Mail & Guardian, promising to fight the decision from within.

A senior ANC councillor in the metro accused Zikalala and the deployment committee of “throwing their toys” by insisting that Mbili be shortlisted for the job.

The M&G understands that regional leaders from the opposition benches, including the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party, have discussed a strategy to thwart the ANC’s plans.

One leader, who sat in the meeting, said that regional leaders would meet again next week after discussions with other ANC councillors opposed to Mbili, in order to block his possible appointment.

The provincial working committee member added that there were also plans to block the move internally when the provincial leaders meet next week.

Former acting city boss Sipho Cele has been placed second on the ANC’s deployment list of preferred candidates.

Cele was believed to have been instrumental in the arrest of former municipal manager Sipho Nzuza, who was charged alongside former mayor Zandile Gumede for fraud and corruption related to a municipal waste-management project.

Although the opposition council leaders who spoke to the M&G were not opposed to Cele making it to the interview process, one councillor in the DA said he had done very little to improve conditions in the city.

Third on the list is acting city boss Musa Mbhele, who is favoured by the ANC faction that spoke to the M&G. According to the two provincial leaders, Mbhele had closed the taps to ANC leaders who used the municipality for their personal financial benefit.

Mbhele, the city’s former head of development and planning since 2014, is understood to have alienated a number of powerful ANC backers in the city by reviewing a number of high-ticket security, outdoor advertising and auditing contracts since his appointment.

According to a source in the city, Mbhele had initially been “inactive” when he was appointed last July to replace Nzuza, but had since pushed ahead with reviewing key contracts.

Among them is the R89-million month-to-month contract held by Royal Security, owned by Roy Moodley, a funder of former president Jacob Zuma, which the city had failed to terminate despite a court order to do so.

Mbhele is understood to be the driving force behind the city finally moving to appoint a new service provider — as ordered by the court — and reviews of advertising and auditing tenders awarded during Nzuza’s tenure.

Another councillor on the opposition benches said Zikalala is increasingly intent on making demands he has no place to be making in the metro.

The councillor added that they believed that the plan to install Mbili was years in the making.

They argued that the process to appoint senior municipal managers was changed by the ANC in 2018. The process was initially designed for the executive councillors to form part of the panel, together with those people legally required. This was changed for the panel to only include the mayor and a councillor of their choice.

The three candidates will be interviewed by Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda and his deputy, Philani Mavundla, on Friday.

DA eThekwini leader Nicole Graham said that the state capture commission had made it clear that the ANC’s deployment committee was not a private affair if it contravened the law, which affected the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people.

“This decision will undoubtedly do that. eThekwini is being run into the ground by the ANC and urgently requires professional, skilled and ethical management to pull it out of the abyss. A municipal manager handpicked by the ANC before the process even starts is not only illegal, it is incredibly unethical and a show of poor faith to eThekwini’s people. This city is not political property: it belongs to the people, who increasingly get a terrible deal,” she said.

IFP regional spokesperson Mdu Nkosi said that it would be a travesty if the ANC gets its way, adding that the people of the metro deserved better. Nkosi said the panel must explain how it arrived at the three shortlisted names.

“You can’t have a panel that deals with interviews and [then] we have politicians who don’t have an understanding of the complexities of the situation in eThekwini [who] want to impose themselves. Let’s compare the metro budget to that of the Ray Nkonyeni municipality. I don’t know Mbili but also I don’t know any good news in the municipality. How do you take a person from a smaller municipality who is not doing a good job and place him in an even bigger municipality with bigger issues? People in eThekwini have lost hope in the metro — we can’t allow that,” he said.

Efforts to reach provincial ANC secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli were unsuccessful.

Zikalala’s spokesperson, Lennox Mabaso, dismissed the allegations as “laughable” and “propaganda” by the DA.

“There is no premier or leader of provincial government that interviews and gets involved in municipal recruitment. These are vexatious, malicious and spurious allegations made with no shred of evidence,” Mabaso said.

He said that Zikalala had run a ” relatively clean and stable administration to date” and that the “baseless allegations” from the DA would continue between now and the 2024 elections.

“We are not going to even bring them to the Premier’s attention for we dismiss them with contempt.

“We know that the Premier is a target of a coordinated attack from counter-revolutionary elements. The DA is key to this clandestine agenda. The intention is to besmirch the reputation of the Premier and government. These baseless accusations will increase as we head to the year 2024.”

“We consider them to be baseless fabrications. We will not give oxygen and even waste the Premier’s time by consulting him on a figment of imagination.”

Artmotion S.Africa

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