It was a dash for freedom at the Durban Specialised Commercial Court for eThekwini Municipality Mayor, Zandile Gumede, on Tuesday when she was shielded by scores of supporters as she exited the building after appearing on corruption charges relating to a R208 million Durban Solid Waste tender from 2016.

Together with her two co-accused, regional deputy secretary and senior municipal councillor Mondli Mthembu and Craig Ponnan of El Shaddai Holdings Group cc, the trio were granted R50 000 bail each.

Facing a raft of charges, Gumede, Mthembu and Ponnan handed themselves to police following the Hawks’ National Clean Audit Task Team (NCATT) investigation into a R208 million DSW tender where it is alleged that exorbitant sums of cash were paid to service providers who did not render any service.

The three accused were subsequently charged with fraud, corruption, contravention of the POCA Act as well as contravening the Municipal Management Act of 2003. It has been also been alleged that Gumede and Cllr Mthembu devised plans for a march to Durban City Hall in April where protesters called for the removal of city manager, Sipho Nzuza.

Senior State advocate, Ashika Lucken, read out in court from Hawk’s lead investigator, Ngoako Mphaki’s affidavit which stated, “In April 2019, information was received that Mayor Gumede incited a march to the City Hall to request the removal of city manager Sipho Nzuza from office on the grounds that he refused to take orders from the mayor to make the irregular payments.

On 16 April, at about 2pm, a large group of people gathered outside city hall protesting and demanding the removal of the city manager. Information is at hand that Mayor Gumede and councillor Mthembu orchestrated these events.”

Hawks spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, said, “Two weeks ago the NCATT arrested nine suspects on allegations of fraud and corruption in relation to a 2016 R208 million Durban Solid Waste tender where service providers were allegedly paid huge amounts of monies even though they did not render any service.

The nine suspects, eThekwini Municipality deputy head of strategy and New Development Robert Abbu (62), supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo (41), Hlenga Sibisi (43), Mzwandile Dludla (24), Sinthamone Ponnan (55), Sithulele Mkhize (38), Bongani Dlomo (53), and Prabagaram Pariah (61) were released on R50 000 bail, as well, by the same court.”

He added, “Gumede, Mthembu and Ponnan will join the nine suspects when they appear again on 8 August 2019. Investigations are still ongoing.”

As stipulated by the court, Gumede and her co-accused have bail conditions imposed which include handing over their passports, no communications with staff from certain eThekwini departments and warned against interfering with municipality operations amongst others.

DA leader in eThekwini, Cllr Nicole Graham said the party welcomed news of the arrests of Mayor Gumede and Cllr Mthembu. “The fact that this only happened after the election – whilst contractors and municipal officials have already been arrested in cases that implicate both Gumede and Mthembu, is a clear indication of a deal that was struck to save face for the ANC. The DA have been calling for Gumede’s axing for some time. Her reign at the helm of eThekwini has been characterised by poor performance, maladministration and corruption,” said Cllr Graham.

She said the mayor’s actions in promoting MK veterans from grade four to grade ten caused the most crippling municipal strike Durban has seen in years. “Tens of thousands of residents were left stranded without electricity, water and refuse collection. The ANC refused to recall Gumede, and have defended her tooth and nail. “Zandile Gumede is not capable or deserving of leading eThekwini, and the ANC have let this city down by allowing such an incompetent person ascend to the top job. It’s time that her, and Mthembu and those who have worked with them face the fullest might of the law,” added Cllr Graham.

In a statement issued by the eThekwini Municipality, head of communications and municipal Spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela, it read, “The eThekwini Municipality has noted the charges of fraud and corruption levelled against the Mayor, Cllr Zandile Gumede and the Chairperson of the Infrastructure Committee, Cllr Mondli Mthembu at the Durban Commercial Court. “The municipality abides by the legal principle of innocent until proven otherwise.”

More importantly, the municipality would like to assure residents that, this matter will have no impact on service delivery to communities. Accordingly, there is no reason for residents to panic. “The municipality will not comment further on the matter as it is now before the courts.”
Meanwhile, the African National Congress (ANC) says it was not notified about the eThekwini Mayor’s appearance in court on Tuesday morning, not only until midday. Speaking after the mayor appeared in court, ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said, “The law should take its course.”

An official statement was later released by the party’s executive saying that they acknowledged the mayor’s arrest. “We would like to reiterate our faith in the justice system and hope that this matter will be treated with respect and integrity it deserves. We subscribe to the principle of innocent until proven otherwise, which is a tenant of our juris prudence. We are a strong believer in the rule of law and the principles of natural justice. “However, we know that the court of public opinion doesn’t subscribe to these principles. We therefore urge everyone to respect the court as the only competent body to pronounce on its outcomes.”