Former Mandela metro manager wins R3.1m in damages

Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela. (Lisa Skinner, M&G)

Danny Jordaan’s first headache when he takes office as Nelson Mandela Bay municipality’s new mayor will be to deal with the mess left by his ANC comrades because of jobs-for-pals and financial mismanagement. It comes at a price tag of more than R3-million.

The Port Elizabeth high court on Tuesday ordered that the municipality pay its former municipal manager, Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, R3.1-million in damages, including interest and legal costs, after she was pushed out of her job through political interference in 2013.

The Mail & Guardian reported in 2013 that Msengana-Ndlela had raised concerns about political interference in her job, as well as intimidation. She blamed then executive mayor Nkosinathi Benson Fihla and deputy mayor Thando Ngcolomba for making her job unbearable and putting her security at risk. Fihla and Ngcolomba are on their way out after the party on Monday announced that it was deploying Jordaan as mayor, with Bicks Ndoni as his deputy.

The court ruled that Msengana-Ndlela’s testimony “stands uncontroverted”.

“Neither Fihla, Ngcolomba or anyone else testified and refuted the plaintiff’s evidence,” Judge Dayalin Chetty’s judgment read.  

Chetty had harsh words for the municipality, saying its approach to the litigation “merits opprobrium”, particularly after the city delayed the case.

“It is however obvious that, notwithstanding the denials encapsulated in the plea, the defendant had no intention of refuting the plaintiff’s version by the adduction of viva voce evidence [evidence given in an open court]. And yet, they persisted with their opposition with the concomitant incurring of legal costs, which the ratepayers of the city will ultimately have to bear.”

Concerns ignored
Msengana-Ndlela’s efforts to tackle poor financial management and increase accountability in the municipality had hit a brick wall, she said at the time, in a letter to MEC for local government and traditional affairs Mlibo Qoboshiyane, requesting his intervention.

In the letter to Qoboshiyane in 2013, Msengana-Ndlela listed instances of political interference, including that:

  • Fihla and Ngcolomba had pressured her to appoint a political adviser in the administration as an acting executive director of corporate services, and/or other senior managers irrespective of their competencies, qualifications and experience.
  • Fihla instructed Msengana-Ndlela to appoint 16 members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) as bodyguards for the mayor and deputy mayor at an estimated cost of R4.3-million, even though there was no budget for the posts; and
  • Fihla reminded Msengana-Ndlela of “incidents of violence and death when people don’t comply with the ‘majority rule’ concept”, which the municipal manager said was being used to force her to perform administrative acts that were contrary to government policies and procedure.

Msengana-Ndlela wrote that it appeared the MKMVA members had been informed of their appointment and that the veterans were under the impression that she was to blame for a delay in their appointment. This saw her being threatened.

“One of the members approached the city manager [Msengana-Ndlela] in her car in the evening, knocking on her window and questioned her about the delays in their appointment. The harassment of the city manager in this manner places her life in danger.”

Msengana-Ndlela said she had been “frequently reminded by the executive mayor [Fihla] of the violence and the ultimate price that is paid by those who do not submit to majority rule”.

She said: “How, then, would any reasonable person construe these reminders of violence against those who express a different point of view if not as threats against the city manager? Seemingly, there is so much at stake that issues of the administration in the metro … that these matters have been turned [into] issues of life and death.”

Msengana-Ndlela was director general of the former department of provincial and local government, now called co-operative governance and traditional affairs. Under her leadership the department received clean audits for seven consecutive years.

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge

Mmanaledi Mataboge is the Mail & Guardian's political editor. Raised in a rural village, she later studied journalism in a township where she fell in love with the medium of radio. This former radio presenter and producer previously worked as a senior politics reporter for the Mail & Guardian, and writes on politics, government, and anything that gives the disadvantaged, poor, and the oppressed a voice. Read more from Mmanaledi Mataboge

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