The pre-trial proceedings against three former Aurora Empowerment Systems directors accused of polluting a key water source, has been set down for February 25, 2020 by the Springs Regional Court, following several delays and a war of words between the state and the defence.
The trial against Khulubuse Zuma, Zondwa Mandela and Thulani Ngubane will take place from 18-25 June and 23-29 July 2020 due to the unavailability of their legal counsel for two consecutive weeks in one month.
The three politically connected accused are yet to plead and this is expected to take place in the pre-trial conference in February. They, together with Raja Zainal Alam Shah, face charges of polluting the Blesbok Spruit, while heading the now failed Grootvlei Mine, near Springs.
Zuma, the nephew of ex-president Jacob Zuma, was Aurora's former chair. Mandela, late president Nelson Mandela’s grandson, was the mining group's ex-managing director.
The wetlands is one of the largest in Gauteng and is a tributary to the Vaal River, which supplies approximately 10m people with water.
The case, which began in May and has been delayed several times, was postponed on November 5, as the accused said they had received a new docket from the National Prosecuting Authority.
The amended charge sheet lists three counts against the trio and removes Raja Zainal Alam Shah's name, as he is believed to be in Malaysia, while the NPA seeks an extradition order against him. The previous charge sheet listed five counts against them, which prosecutor Advocate Connie Erasmus said were duplications.
Zuma, Mandela and Ngubane now face charges for unlawful water usage, between October 2009 and May 2011 for allegedly discharging underground mine water into the Blesbok Spruit. They are also accused of ‘significant pollution’ by allowing chemically untreated water into the wetlands.
The trio further face a count of failing to comply with a directive to treat the underground mine water at the Grootvlei Mine.
‘Behave like adults’
Magistrate Nkhensani Moila was forced to intervene several times as the NPA clashed with Mandela’s new legal counsel, Advocate Kenny Oldwage, imploring the parties to “behave like adults” and not to repeat their submissions.
Zuma and Ngubane are represented by attorney Pranav Jaggan.
Erasmus said he had received an email from the defence and he would not detail what it contained; however, he would no longer speak to them outside of court processes or “off the record”. He also asked for a postponement to February for further investigation, and for pre-trial and trial proceedings to begin in the same month.
Oldwage objected to this postponement as Magistrate Moila warned earlier in November that she would not allow further delays. He added that there was a lack of evidence contained in the two updated lever arch files they received on October 31 from the NPA.
Magistrate Moila said the defence "can’t decide what’s in the docket; if the case is weak, it’s to their benefit".
She told Erasmus that she would not allow any further postponements and if the state is not ready for trial, they must withdraw the charges. She also warned that she would not allow a “trial by ambush” by introducing new information that is not contained in the docket.
Erasmus insisted that the state is ready for trial. He admitted, however, that the wrong body had investigated the case and the Hawks should have been assisted by water and environmental authorities.
He also accused Oldwage of making misrepresentations and lying to the court.
During a brief adjournment to consult the magistrate’s diary, Fin24 overhead the tensions continuing in court, with both parties telling each other they had “embarrassed” themselves in front of the media during their lengthy war of words.