The Executive Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, Councillor Ben Fihla, has extended a surprise invitation to church leaders in the metro to partner with the municipality in tackling critical local issues.
Fihla’s warm invitation to the church to “fundamentally reassert its role in society” was somewhat spoiled by his failure to attend a meeting he had scheduled with church leaders on Monday (June 24). But church leaders who have expressed grave concern about the “catastrophic state of affairs” in local government say they hope to meet with the Mayor on July 19.
In a letter sent to Fihla on May 21, NMB church leaders requested an urgent meeting with him and to address tensions between the Mayor’s Office and the City Manager, Lindiwe Msengana-Ndlela, which threatened to impact service delivery.
Fihla eventually responded to the church leaders in a letter dated June 18, in which he apologised for his belated reply which he said was due to events beyond his control.
In his letter the Mayor says: “Additional to issues you have raised in your correspondence to us, we would like to discuss with you further synergistic relations that this Municipality can forge with the Church and a joint programmatic focus we can generate. In essence we would like to provide space and platform for the Church to fundamentally re-assert its role in society. We are of a very firm view that the Church can help champion many issues where Government is in dire need of social partners.”
A delegation of church leaders went to the Council Chambers on Monday afternoon to meet with Fihla. One of the leaders had postponed his departure to attend a conference in Cape Town in order to meet with the Mayor. But Fihla did not show up — apparently because of pressing African National Congress business.
In a letter sent to Fihla today, the church leaders say they are unhappy that he did not keep his appointment with them on Monday and that he did not have the courtesy to inform them that he was not attending. However, they say they appreciate the Mayor’s willingness to meet with them and that they feel that he understands that the issues they hope to address with him are “matters of common concern and of life and death”.
The churchmen also write that they look forward to discussing a Church-Municipality partnership as proposed by Fihla in his letter.
“Having met with your secretary the next meeting has been scheduled for Friday the 19 July. We hope and pray that this meeting will take place,” they say.
The letter sent to Fihla today on behalf of NMB church leaders is signed by Archdeacon Zwelidumile Tom, secretary of the SA Council of Churches.
Since 2011 a group of NMB church leaders has been meeting regularly on Tuesdays to pray for the Mayor and for specific issues in the city.