Zandile Gumede’s hold on eThekwini’s mayorship has ended the way it began – in scandal. Gumede’s arrest and appearance in the Durban regional commercial crimes court on Tuesday on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering caps a tenure marked by upheaval and a rapid decline in one of the ANC’s most stable metros.
A day after she appeared in court, the ANC’s integrity commission sent her a letter telling her to step aside as mayor while her case was being dealt with by the courts.
Four years ago, eThekwini’s regional conference, which ultimately brought her to power, finally sat after being delayed three times. Her predecessor, James Nxumalo, edged her out by a small margin, but two weeks later, then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe disbanded Nxumalo’s leadership and announced a fresh conference amid allegations of vote buying and manipulation at three branches.
In December 2015, Gumede was elected unopposed after Nxumalo, who boycotted the conference, failed to abort it through the courts.
Entrenched in political office and sworn in as mayor after the 2016 local government election, Gumede shifted her focus to the administration. It took only four months for city manager Sibusiso Sithole to leave office. Then, it was allegedly open season on tenders.
An affidavit filed by the Hawks’ investigating officer in court this week shows how Gumede allegedly laid the ground to plunder the city – by using her political clout to install pliable people in its human resources, legal and supply chain management departments. In May last year, less than two years after she took office, the Hawks launched a series of investigations into tenders.
These were based on a report from another investigation, by Integrity Forensic Solutions, which found that Gumede and councillor Mondli Mthembu summoned an official to the mayor’s home to demand that a R25 million tender be dished out to handpicked companies. The report concluded that those firms may have belonged to Gumede’s political supporters, to whom she owed “a token of gratitude in the form of tenders from the council”.
Mthembu is also the ANC eThekwini region’s deputy secretary. He appeared in court and was charged alongside Gumede this week.
Between 2014 and August 2017, the city’s human settlements unit paid R3 million for the cleaning of 800 chemical toilets. But a year after Gumede became mayor, that function was moved from human settlements to the city’s water and sanitation unit. Immediately, the budget shot up to R15 million. And, by the end of February last year, it rocketed again, to R25 million.
Integrity Forensic Solutions’ report found that a “quasi-vigilante” group, known as AmaDelangokubona Business Forum – key supporters and protectors of Gumede who supported her bid for office – had allegedly approached one of the chemical toilet suppliers and demanded R45 000 a month.
AmaDelangokubona has gained notoriety in the city for allegedly using intimidation tactics to extract payment or portions of contracts from business people who have received city tenders, allegedly shutting down multimillion-rand construction projects if they did not get a stake.
Affectionately known as “mama”, Gumede – a seemingly innocuous and affable 54-year-old from Amaoti in Inanda – appears to rule with an iron fist.
A source told City Press that Gumede went from being a low-level employee “sweeping and making tea” at a law firm in Durban to rapidly rising through the ranks of the ANC Women’s League. Between 2007 and 2015, she was a proportional representation councillor at eThekwini.
Her arrival in the mayor’s office allegedly ushered in a culture of fear and anxiety.
In May last year, the Auditor-General hurriedly removed staff from the city after allegedly receiving death threats for requesting information for auditing purposes. Officials from the City Integrity and Investigations Unit, the section that conducts investigations on behalf of the council, have also received threats.
But people who rule by fear need protection. So, in 2017, eThekwini acquired four military-style nyalas for R23 million, becoming the only council in the country to own armoured vehicles.
An explosive affidavit, submitted by Hawks senior investigator Colonel Frans Mphaki to the court this week, alleges that Gumede and Mthembu instructed officials to hand tenders to certain companies. It also claims that Mthembu also summoned four suppliers – which received contracts to handle illegal dumping, remove solid waste and clean the streets – to City Hall and instructed them to subcontract portions of their contracts to suppliers he identified.
One of those suppliers was El Shaddai Holdings Group cc, represented by businessman Craig Ponnan, who also appeared alongside Gumede and Mthembu in court this week.
Gumede and Mthembu are also accused in Mphaki’s affidavit of organising protests to force the municipal manager to pay those suppliers, and of placing the internal head of the City Integrity and Investigations Unit under so much pressure that he developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
Questions have also arisen about why eThekwini has settled legal cases out of court at a massive cost to the city. City Press is aware of at least one case in which the council cancelled a contract of a company hired by its electricity department, for submitting fraudulent contracts and for performing additional work without authorisation. The company rushed to the Durban High Court to stop the municipality cancelling its tender – which, inexplicably, the city did not oppose. Instead, city manager Sipho Nzuza settled out of court for R25 million.
However, Nkosinathi Nkwanyana, the manager who cancelled the company’s contract, opposed the settlement in his personal capacity. In its judgment, the Durban High Court demanded Nzuza explain why he had not opposed the matter and had agreed to settle. Nzuza then undertook to oppose the case, which the city still has not done. The case returns to court in August.
Nkwanyana paid a heavy price. He was suspended in September 2017 and three months later, his son Ntuthuko (23) was gunned down in front of his house. His father believes the killers were looking for him. To this day, he remains suspended.
Sources told City Press that there are several other matters in which the metro decided to settle cases with a substantial amount of money.
“The script is simple. You ask a company to take you to court for trivial matters. They file papers and the municipality does not defend. Instead, it decides to settle out of court and that decision is made a court order. The company is paid and some of the money is routed back to politicians’ pockets. I must agree that it is sophisticated corruption,” said a source.
Gumede’s rise to power in eThekwini has also been marked by a decline in service delivery.
A senior ANC official told City Press that when the party made door-to-door visits ahead of its January 8 statement rally, held at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, leaders found that waste removal had stopped in Umlazi, Ohlange, Claremont and Lamontville. The leader also said housing delivery had declined from about 16 000 houses a year in 2014 to about 4 000 last year.
Shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo welcomed the arrest of the woman they call the “gangster mayor”. Gumede’s legacy may still be a damaging one for the ANC.
The ANC official said: “We are very afraid that if things continue at this rate, we will lose one of our last key remaining metros during the local government election in 2021.”
Gumede’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Gumede denied that she was involved in corruption, fraud, money laundering and intimidation as alleged.
“The mayor does not get herself involved in awarding of tenders and she is not a gangster as they claim. She does not rule with an iron fist but she is a firm person who is very open about her views,” he said, adding that she will meet the regional executive committee about stepping aside. “Those processes will be dealt with by the ANC and therefore I cannot comment. The mayor has raised her concerns about several business forums which are disruptive and she has raised this issue with the provincial government as well as law enforcement agencies as this affected the province. eThekwini is the economic hub of the province,” he said.