Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) will have to wait a little bit longer for clarity on who its rightful mayor is, after the Port Elizabeth High Court reserved judgment in former mayor Athol Trollip’s challenge against his ousting.
For the past eighteen days, Trollip has travelled the lengths of the municipality assuring citizens he was “still mayor of NMB”.
He made his way to the benches in court on Thursday, avoiding the camera’s spotlight alongside his colleagues, Nqaba Bhanga and Retief Odendaal, and coalition members, COPE’s Siyasanga Sijadu and the ACDP’s Lance Grootboom.
Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing the opposition, responded to the DA’s legal arguments.
Mpofu argued that the case had three crisp matters, the first being the “membership of the DA versus the membership of council, where [councillor] Mbulelo Manyathi is concerned,” said Mpofu.
Manyathi, a DA councillor, had abstained from voting on the day that Trollip and Speaker Jonathan Lawack were removed.
The DA argued that Manyathi immediately ceased being a DA member when he exercised his right to abstain from voting, as per its constitution.
A letter from DA federal executive chairperson James Selfe was read in council on the day to that effect.
The DA then walked out of council chambers following Manyathi’s removal, raising doubts about the sitting’s quorum.
Mpofu dismissed advocate Alan Ronaasen’s arguments that there was no quorum in council on the day Trollip was ousted and that councillor Mbulelo Manyathi had ceased to be a DA member when the vote against Trollip proceeded.
He said the mistake the DA made was their “miscalculated decision” to leave the meeting before it had concluded its business of the day.
He said walking out of a meeting is a strategy used popularly across political spaces, but said there was a tact to it.
“You exercise this strategy when the numbers favour your walkout and lead to the crippling of the meeting,” said Mpofu.
Another one of the DA’s arguments was the availability of City manager Johann Mettler to preside over the proceedings of a nomination and election of a new council speaker, as required by the law.
Mpofu said Mettler should have been available in council and not in his office.
“He could have been available physically in council, but lacked the willingness to act on his duties,” Mpofu claimed.
“Mettler voluntarily absented himself from the meeting. He said: ‘I walked away,’ in his own words.”
Rule 10 in the council rules
As for Manyathi’s membership, Mpofu argued that the DA’s version of the sequence of events would never stand, claiming the party could not point to when exactly Manyathi ceased to be a member.
He cited the recent matter between the DA and Patricia de Lille as posing a similar problem.
“The DA’s own constitution in the Manyathi membership matter and the DA’s cessation clause will be the double hurdles that will need to be addressed before the membership of Manyathi can cease,” said Mpofu.
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi argued that Rule 10 in the council rules stated that “when a meeting has started, it should continue uninterrupted”.
“When the DA left the meeting, they knew that Mettler could not usurp powers of the speaker, they also knew that there was a fluid political situation in council,” said Ngcukaitobi.
In closing, Mpofu stated that it was absurd for the council meeting to have been without a quorum.
“There were 120 councillors in the meeting before the DA left,” said Mpofu.
Acting Judge Johann Huisamen reserved judgment.