Nelson Mandela Bay’s new leaders must ensure stable, effective governance

The City Hall in Gqeberha
The City Hall in Gqeberha

A powerful and poignant African proverb says: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled”.

This scenario plays itself out in many situations. Take the conflict in northern Mozambique, in the province of Cabo Delgado, where armed insurgents are at war with the state.

Those who have suffered most are innocent people who have been killed, injured and displaced.

The men and women of Mocimboa da Praia, a once peaceful town where many people settled in the early 1990s after the peace accords, are today scattered across the hinterlands, without habitable shelter or food.

None of them are involved in the fight between the Mozambican state and the al-Shabaab militants, and yet, they are the ones most affected.

Another example can also be gleaned further north in Ethiopia, a country on the brink of collapse.

A year ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began a military campaign in the Tigray region to break the power of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a group that has dominated Ethiopian politics and government for decades.

To put pressure on the TPLF, he cut funding to the region, restricted phone and internet communication in and out of Tigray and deployed a huge army.

But it is not the TPLF rebels or the soldiers who are suffering, it is the more than 2-million people who have been displaced.

It is the children who are dying of malnutrition as soldiers are looting food aid; it is the elderly and the sickly who are dying as relief workers have been prevented from reaching the hardest-hit areas.

As the elephants fight, it is the grass that is being trampled.

I want us to reflect on this in the context of the election outcome in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro that has been the site of a power struggle between various political parties.

Though several metros became unstable after the 2016 local government elections, without doubt, the instability of the Bay was unparalleled.

The metro had four mayors in a single term — an unthinkable scenario even when we accept that the municipality was significantly unstable.

All this was as a result of political parties refusing to find solutions to their differences in the interest of service delivery and effective governance.

The cost on ordinary people was devastating.

At some point, the National Treasury withheld more than R1bn in funding due to non-compliance that was directly linked to the political and administrative instability.

The result was a delay in the delivery of critical services and investment in infrastructure development intended to better the lives of the people.

We sit on the threshold of an inevitable coalition-led government.

Whether this will be a DA- or ANC-led coalition is yet to be seen.

But whatever the outcome of ongoing negotiations, any coalition that is established needs to have this critical agreement — that the interests of the people will always be at the centre.

This is what kept the coalition in Ekurhuleni under executive mayor Mzwandile Masina stable, as expressed in his pioneering book, Future Realities of Coalitions in South Africa.

The political differences of the parties in the coalition were rendered subordinate to the bigger objective of good governance and service delivery to the people of Ekurhuleni.

This is an important lesson which political parties that are battling for the soul of the Bay metro must internalise.

Failure to run a stable coalition government will result in people suffering, because indeed, when elephants fight, it is the grass that is trampled.



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