Tempers flare at Mandela memorial scandal trial

2015-02-25 16:18

Two groups of ANC supporters almost came to blows outside the East London Regional Court this afternoon as it was confirmed that the trial of Buffalo City Metro officials accused of fraud and money laundering would take place in April.

The two warring ANC factions sang songs just 200m from each other after being separated by party leaders. The one faction supported Buffalo City regional secretary Phumlani Mkolo, and the other group was opposed to him.

In an affidavit leaked to City Press last week and that is central to the upcoming trial, which relates to money meant for former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service events, Mkolo is implicated as the mastermind behind the scam.

Besides Mkolo, the other people charged in the fraud and money laundering case include Buffalo City’s executive mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, deputy mayor Temba Tinta, council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele, senior councillor Sindiswa Gomba, director in the office of the mayor, Ondela Mahlangu, and the following business people: Mzwandile Sokwali, his wife Blanche Sokwali, Viwe Vazi, Dean Fanoe and Joburg attorney Zintle Nkuhlu.

The Sokwalis entered a plea bargain with the state and pleaded guilty. Mzwandile was given a five-year suspended sentence and his wife was acquitted.

Meanwhile, those opposed to Mkolo sang and raised placards outside court, calling for his removal from office. Not to be outdone, a larger group of ANC and pro-Mkolo supporters sang his praises.

“The thieves who stole Madiba’s funeral fund must stay in jail for 27 years”, “Disband regional leadership now” and “Corruption is equal to apartheid”, read some of the placards carried by the anti-Mkolo group.

Mkolo appeared unfazed. He did not even acknowledge the group, who heckled him as he passed them in a luxury SUV.

Earlier, the packed courtroom had its fair share of drama as the different attorneys representing the 16 accused blamed the state for ambushing them by either giving them crucial documents late or not giving them at all.

After listening to accusations and counter-accusations from the various legal representatives, magistrate Deon Rossouw called for cool heads and adjourned proceedings for the parties to consult and iron out all differences.

The state was accused of introducing new evidence late despite claiming to have concluded investigations last year.

The court also heard of an “off the record” meeting between the state and some of the legal representatives of the accused in an apparent attempt at a plea bargain, which did not work out.

At one point, senior state prosecutor Advocate Deniso Ketani accused his opponents of bringing matters of “gentlemen’s agreements” to court and using them against him, in reference to the off-the-record meeting.

After the short adjournment, the state and the various defence attorneys reported to the court that they had come to the understanding that all outstanding documentations would be submitted to all the defence attorneys by March 6.

It was also agreed that the trial date, which had already been set for the East London High Court from April 7 to 24, would not change.

Rossouw thanked the parties for their cooperation and warned everyone to stick to the agreed time frames and agreements so that the trial date would not be affected.

The matter was postponed.

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