17 March 2020
Do mayors – or some of them – go a bit bonkers? Or at least suffer from an illness that I call “mayoritis”? I ask this question in all seriousness after studying the goings on of several mayors of towns and cities around South Africa. (Personal disclosure: I was elected mayor of Benoni in 1975 but unelected just before the mayoral induction because of the formation of the Reform Party led by Harry Schwarz).
Just think of the current mayor of Ekurhuleni, MzwandileMasina. A die-hard Zuma supporter, he announced that if Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of the ANC, he would resign. He did not. Embarrassing his citizens, he continues supporting JZ openly and publicly in the face of the most damning revelations about state capture and JZ’s activities.
The Mayor of eThekwini, Zandile Gumede, facing serious charges of criminal conduct in the tens of millions, clung to office beyond all reason until even for the ANC it become too much of an embarrassment.
The Mayor of Mangaung, Olly Mlamleli insists on staying in office despite two investment grading downgrades in one year and debts of R780 m for water, R300m to Eskom and total debts of R6.5 bn.
The mayor of Tshwane, caught with his pants down, as it were, only finally resigned when the DA instructed him, on pain of expulsion, to go.
The mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, installed after Julius Malema (disgracefully) “cut the face of whiteness” and removed Athol Trollip, carried on like some low-level Chicago mobster until the unprecedented happened. The DA and the ANC voted together to rid the city of him.
The previous mayor of Johannesburg, my respected friend, Herman Mashaba, suddenly decided that he could not be in the party when Helen Zille was democratically elected as chairperson of the Federal Executive. Only months before he had praised her as a wonderful human being. He turned his back on the voters’ mandate, on the officials, on his councillor colleagues and on his party, handing the administration back to the ANC. He is now in the process of forming a new party, presumably to seek another mandate from the voters. Be warned.
The new mayor of Johannesburg, Geoff Makhubo seems not to be immune to mayoritis. He was quoted extensively in The Star, stating that the finances of Johannesburg (inherited from the DA) were “in a mess.” He used the Auditor General’s report to bolster his argument. The one thing he forgot to mention was that the AG gave Johannesburg an unqualified audit report. Hardly “a mess.” It is not as though the mayor does not know the difference. There are many examples because he was in his day the MMC for Finance. Just one example (of many) will suffice: for a number of years under ANC rule, Johannesburg received a qualified auditor’s report because it could not provide accurate revenue figures. Quite different from the current situation where under the DA administration there was a significant improvement in the City’s finances. The cash balance at the end of the financial year was R5.3 billion, from R2.2 billion the previous year. Mayor Makhubo should not tell fibs and in the process unnecessarily frighten the citizens of Johannesburg.
Generally, local government has not been a rip-roaring success in South Africa and mayors and councillors from all parties, but specifically those governing towns and cities, need to buckle down and deliver good and efficient service to the residents: it is the least we should expect.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
* This article first appeared in The Star