/ 26 June 2024

Political stalemate as ANC and DA dispute delays eThekwini Metro mayoral election

Cyril Xaba
Cyril Xaba, 57, has served as an ANC MPL in KwaZulu-Natal from 1994 and became the agriculture MEC in 2014.

The failure by the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) to agree on the composition of the government of national unity (GNU) is one of the reasons that a new mayor for eThekwini metro was not elected on Tuesday.

The full council meeting held at the Durban International Convention Centre had been set to elect Cyril Xaba to replace mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, who was redeployed by the ANC to the National Council of Provinces.

Xaba has been placed on the ANC’s list of proportional representation councillors for the city despite opposition from the party’s eThekwini region, which preferred either former mayor James Nxumalo or human settlements chairperson Nigel Gumede to replace Kaunda.

But the apparent unavailability of Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) officials and the chief magistrate to oversee the swearing-in and election process — and the impasse in national talks — halted the process.

Speaker Thabani Nyawose said in an interview that he had been informed the IEC officials would not be available and had been asked to secure another date in July. But, he said the parties involved in the national talks had requested more time to conclude their discussion on how they would relate at local government level.

“Engagements with political parties are still ongoing. For me this is not an issue, but for the political parties,” Nyawose said. “They also came to me requesting time to conclude their discussions.

“We are all aware that the government of national unity and the government of unity in the province is also impacting now on the composition of municipalities. Those who are negotiating among parties have not agreed on when they are going to start engaging in discussing working relations with different political parties at local level.”

The ANC has entered into a government of provincial unity led by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and which includes the DA and the National Freedom Party (NFP).

It previously governed eThekwini with the assistance of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and smaller parties, but appears to be preparing to dump them and work with its provincial partners in the city and other municipalities.

But Xaba does not enjoy the support of the ANC eThekwini councillors, and this may also have contributed to the decision to postpone the vote until they — and its new partners — were onside.

During the council meeting Nyawose told councillors that he could confirm that Xaba had “replaced Kaunda” on the ANC list and was present.

“Let’s introduce him,” ActionSA councillor Zwakhele Mncwango said to laughter from the opposition benches. “We want to see him.”

Nyawose did not do so.

ANC and DA speakers were repeatedly heckled over their budding relationship nationally and in the province by the EFF and the smaller parties who had helped the ANC keep control of the city in the mayoral elections since November 2021, when it lost its outright majority.

Chants of “GNU, GNU” broke out on a number of occasions when agenda items were put to the vote, particularly in cases where the DA and the ANC voted in tandem during the meeting.

But the DA also voted in opposition to the ANC on a number of issues, including the proposed referral of the reprioritisation of the budget for a marine theme park back to committee by DA councillor Geoff Pullen.

The EFF voted with the ANC to block the referral back to committee by a margin of 139-49, a clear indication that no instruction to vote along GNU lines had been received by the ANC caucus in the city.

Similarly, the IFP and the DA maintained their opposition to a decision by the city in May 2023 to borrow R1.5 billion to pay for infrastructure upgrades and repairs to damage sustained in a series of natural disasters since 2022.

Councillors were presented with an update on the process of selecting who to borrow from, but IFP and DA councillors argued  that the city should instead focus on revenue collection — it has R32 billion in uncollected debt — rather than “punishing” ratepayers with tariff increases to pay it off.

ActionSA’s Mncwango said the city was “punishing the very same hand that feeds us” by increasing tariffs to fund its debt and that his party also opposed the idea.

ANC executive committee member Nkosenhle Madlala said it would be unwise to allow the political uncertainty nationally and provincially to affect their work as councillors.

“Politically and otherwise the city is not in a stable position due to the winds that are blowing. We have to be sober minded and stick to our decisions,” Madlala said.

eThekwini’s deputy mayor, NFP councillor Zandile Myeni, will act as mayor until the election takes place next month.

The NFP’s president, Ivan Barnes, was sworn in as a councillor in the Zululand district municipality this week.

Barnes appears to be set to replace mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi, who is now KwaZulu-Natal’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs MEC —  an extension of the provincial deal which saw the NFP’s sole MPL, Mbali Shinga, was appointed as social development MEC by the new premier, Thami Ntuli.