Mandela funeral scandal trial begins with war of words

2015-04-07 16:05

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Defence lawyers took turns to tear into the state’s case in the controversial Nelson Mandela funeral scandal at the East London High Court today.

What was expected to be a smooth start to the much-awaited trial of Buffalo City Municipality executive mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, her deputy Temba Tinta, council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele, senior councillor Sindiswa Gomba and ANC regional leader Pumlani Mkolo turned into a war of words between the state and the defence.

The Buffalo City Municipality leaders, along with business people from around East London, are charged with fraud and money laundering relating to R5.9 million that was meant for commemoration events for the late former president.

The state alleges that fraudulent activities that date back to December 2013, a few days after Madiba’s death, resulted in money being siphoned out of the municipality’s coffers and paid to individuals and companies for purposes other than what it was intended for.

In November last year, the trial was set down for today after the state was granted numerous postponements to investigate their case.

But today various advocates tore into the state’s case calling it “irregular and a detriment” to the administration of justice.

The bone of contention appeared to be amendments made to the charge sheet with up to four different versions having allegedly been provided by the state.

Advocate Phillip Zilwa (SC) – who was representing some of the 10 accused who appeared in court, including Ncitha – argued that the case be withdrawn, struck off the roll or at the very least be postponed for the defence to consult and take proper instruction from their respective clients.

He also asked for more time so that the defence could be able to “plough” through the various changes made by the state in the charge sheet.

All the defence lawyers were in agreement that a harsh sanction be given to the state, so that the court could communicate “its displeasure” with the way the state had conducted itself.

Zilwa said since the beginning of the state’s case the defence had received four versions of the charge sheet. The first, which contained 39 pages. The last version, handed to defence on the morning of the trial date, had 72 pages.

Zilwa said the charge sheet had doubled in volume, instead of decreasing as the number of accused had dropped, and that assurances by the state that nothing much had changed were not good enough.

“You cannot say nothing much has changed, when in actual fact you gave us a charge sheet with a number of inaccuracies and that has doubled in volume. To say the least, that is mind-boggling,” Zilwa said.

The packed courtroom watched in amazement as defence counsel after defence counsel tore into the state’s case, calling it worse than ridiculous while “prejudicing” their clients.

“The trial has huge implications politically, financially and professionally for our clients,” Zilwa said.

He said the state’s case should be withdrawn and only reinstated by the consent of the director of public prosecutions after the numerous deficiencies had been corrected.

Pretoria-based senior state advocate Diniso Ketani cut a lone figure as the state’s case was brought to question by his opponents.

When he got his chance to reply, Ketani said the defence should be mindful of the fact that this was a serious trial and that “taxpayers money” had been stolen.

“We are talking about taxpayers money here … this is a serious case of money laundering, where money continued to be transferred at the instruction of one of the accused to the accounts of the other accused even after arrests had been made,” he said.

Ncitha and Pumlani Mkolo – the regional secretary of the municipality, who is said to be the mastermind behind the fraud – were arrested on June 23 2014, and several other accused and business people were arrested a few days later.

Other accused include Ondela Mahlangu – a director at the mayor’s office, business people Viwe Vazi, Zintle Nkuhlu and Dean Fanoe and their companies.

The trial continues at the East London High Court.

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