Rochelle de Kock email@example.com
DESPITE political intervention from Eastern Cape ANC bosses this week, the ugly spat between new Nelson Mandela Bay caretaker municipal manager Themba Hani and senior official Sitembele Vatala escalated yesterday, with Vatala locked out of his office and barred from setting foot in municipal buildings.
Vatala said he reported for work yesterday morning to find his office at the Mfanasekhaya Gqobose (formerly Eric Tindale) building locked. Security guards told him he was barred from entering the building due to his suspension.
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“I didn’t receive a formal suspension letter, but I went to my office [yesterday morning] and there was a letter at security to say I mustn’t be allowed in the building. I’m still waiting for the letter of suspension,” he said.
Municipal spokesman Roland Williams confirmed Vatala had been suspended and was barred from entering any municipal buildings.
Last week, Hani issued a notice of intention to suspend Vatala for a list of charges, including failure to disclose his business interests, an alleged criminal record and being in possession of interview scores for the municipal manager job for which he had applied.
Vatala rubbished the charges as part of a political ploy orchestrated by mayor Zanoxolo Wayile to ultimately get rid of him. The suspension could, however, backfire on the municipality as Hani was expected to have met Vatala to discuss why he should not be suspended.
The meeting did not take place.
Vatala has been embroiled in a bitter legal battle with the metro and Wayile over the municipal manager’s job he says the mayor is determined to prevent him from getting.
Vatala is the second official to be locked out of municipal offices in recent weeks after former acting municipal manager Elias Ntoba was fired last month for insubordination.
Firing Ntoba fuelled speculation that Wayile was driving a purge of officials aligned to his rival, ANC regional head Nceba Faku. Since he was sent to the metro by Local Government MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane last month, Hani has received an icy reception from a faction of the ANC which supports Faku.
Some ANC members and councillors, aligned to the Faku faction, have called for Hani’s immediate removal because of the drastic changes he has instituted in the city. Hani also removed Vatala and Williams last week from heading up tender committees.
In a letter to The Herald, ANC member Mvuzo Mbelekane accused Hani of deliberately causing confusion and “perpetuating political divisions” at the expense of the municipality.
“The MEC must take Hani out because we know his agenda is to create chaos and remove all the people who are doing their work,” Mbelekane said.
The tensions have prompted Qoboshiyane and Eastern Cape ANC chairman Phumulo Masualle to meet the regional ANC leadership on Tuesday to tackle accusations that Hani was sent to perpetuate political divisions.
“We clarified a number of aspects that could be seen as purging by some, and I explained that when we second someone we expect good-quality administration,” Qoboshiyane said.
“Our intention is not to micro-manage anyone. We have to give strategic leadership and stability. Mr Hani is one of the key people who must work with the mayor. His duty is to see that the municipality is stable for when the new municipal manager is employed and to fill the executive director posts as a matter of urgency.
“I dispute and reject any suggestions that we are taking managers to the municipality to purge others.”
He said a delegation of officials from his department and that of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, and chief directors from provincial government were already in the city to lend support, as requested by Wayile.
He was considering sending officials from the national Treasury as well as the Development Bank of South Africa.
Wayile could not be reached for comment yesterday.