- Axed health MEC Sindiswa Gomba and others stand accused of fraud, money laundering, corruption and contravening the Public Finance Management Act.
- A total of R10 million was allegedly siphoned from the Buffalo City Municipality in East London.
- Magistrate Rochelle Sam set the trial for 5 October in the High Court.
After a two-hour fight by the accused in the R10 million Nelson Mandela funeral scandal, a date for their trial in the East London High Court was set.
This after lawyers for the 14 accused successfully challenged the State's application for yet another postponement in the East London Magistrate's Court on Wednesday.
Magistrate Rochelle Sam set the trial for 5 October in the High Court.
The State asked for the case to be postponed to 19 October to give Judge President Selby Mbenenge time to find a suitable court in which health protocols could be observed given the number of accused.
The accused, including axed health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, face charges of fraud, money laundering, corruption and contravening the Public Finance Management Act.
On Wednesday, the defence submitted that the State either withdraw the charges provisionally or provide a trial date.
Outside court, a jubilant Gomba said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was trying to further delay the case and charged it "should not be trusted".
"It was not a hidden fact that today the NPA was up to its old delaying tactics but when our attorneys said it's today or never, we were asked to go out and come back at 2[pm] and that's when we saw action from NPA."
About the trial date, she added:
Asked to respond to Gomba's statement, NPA spokesperson advocate Mthunzi Mhaga said there were no delaying tactics, but rather certain processes which needed to be followed.
"What is important is that justice must prevail at the end of the day and that the NPA is guided by evidence presented by law enforcement. We are confident that when the trial starts, our prosecutors will lead a formidable case that will lead to a conviction of all the accused," added Mhaga.
The other accused are suspended ANC regional chairperson Phumlani Mkolo, former Buffalo City mayor Zukisa Ncitha, former speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele and former deputy mayor Themba Tinta.
In the application for postponement, prosecutor advocate Ulrike de Klerk said Mbenenge had written to Justice Minister Ronald Lamola about a tight High Court schedule and lack of courtroom space to facilitate social distancing.
De Klerk added the postponement was to give the judge president time to get a response.
Counsel for the accused advocate Andre Schoombie told the court the case had been postponed 26 times between 26 June 2014 and 18 October 2018, and the accused felt they were being punished.
He said the case had seen numerous postponements when the charges against the accused were reinstated in February 2021 after an initial postponement.
Schoombie slammed the State, saying the reason for the postponements was because it could not get its house in order.
He accused the State of giving the defence "messy and confusing dockets with missing annexures", adding it had given the defence 25 new statements in May and 29 in June.
Schoombie said the State had not granted them a formal indictment and had given them seven different charge sheets.
He added he believed this had negatively impacted the accused.
"I don't know what the rush was in making these unnecessary arrests. The State arrested our clients saying they are ready for trial but in actual fact the State is nowhere near that."
Another defence lawyer, advocate Michael Maseti, said he blamed the case for Gomba's axing.
"She is no more an MEC because of this case, which is dragging for a long time."
Pointing at Simon-Ndzele, Maseti added: "She was meant to be deployed as a deputy mayor but that did not happen because of this case. This case has put our clients' lives on hold."
The 14 stand accused of misleading the Buffalo City Municipality into believing it had an obligation to make funds available for Nelson Mandela's funeral service in 2013.
It is alleged that once R10 million was made available, they allegedly acted with a common purpose to defraud and manipulate municipal procurement processes through illegal deviation, and to manipulate the situation so the funding could be used for other purposes other than for what it was officially approved for.
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