Mayor graft scandal

eThekweni mayor Zandile Gumede in the dock at the Commercial Crimes Court in Durban on Tuesday. She stands next to fellow accused Mondli Mthembu.
eThekweni mayor Zandile Gumede in the dock at the Commercial Crimes Court in Durban on Tuesday. She stands next to fellow accused Mondli Mthembu.
Kerushun Pillay

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede was charged on Tuesday with corruption, money laundering and racketeering, and has been accused of using her political might to strong-arm the awarding of a multi-million rand tender to four companies for refuse collection.

On top of this she allegedly interfered with investigations, and incited a crowd to march to Durban’s City Hall to hound out municipal manager Sipho Nzuza when he refused to take orders from her to make “irregular payments” to the companies.

Gumede, along with eThekwini council speaker Mondli Mthembu and Craig Ponnan, a service provider awarded the tender, were on Tuesday granted R50 000 bail each at the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes court.

They join 13 other accused for a massive scandal in which four companies, which were allegedly selected with Gumede and Mthembu’s influence, made about R130 million from a Durban Solid Waste (DSW) tender despite that department having a budget of only R45 million. They face fraud, corruption and money laundering charges.

Gumede and Mthembu then allegedly interfered the City’s internal investigations when it began probing potential corruption in connection with the tender. Gumede handed herself over to the Hawks on Tuesday. State prosecutor Ashika Lucken told the court that Gumede and her co-accused were formally charged despite investigations not being completed to ensure they do not interfere with the case.

The mayor’s strict bail conditions prevent her from having a hand in various wings of eThekwini’s business, including supply chain management, DSW and finance, and she may only “give guidance”.

Magistrate Dawn Soomaroo adjourned the matter to August, adding that Gumede may not leave KwaZulu-Natal without written notice to investigators.

After their appearance, Gumede’s supporters clashed with members of the media who were trying to take photographs of the mayor. Her supporters had tried to screen her from photographers by holding up jackets and bags and pushing reporters back.

Supporters of eThekweni mayor Zandile Gumede try to block the media from photographing her after she was granted bail at the Commercial Crimes Court on Tuesday.

A strong police presence tried to separate the media and Gumede’s supporters before the mayor left using a back exit.

eThekwini officials, businesspeople and their companies are also implicated in the matter. They appeared previously and were charged in connection with the awarding of the DSW tender.

The scandal has to do with procedures allegedly being flouted in the awarding of a contract to four companies — Uzuzinekele Trading 31 CC, Omphile Thabang Projects, Ilanga La Mahlase Projects Pty Ltd and El Shaddai Holdings Groups CC — for refuse collection.

A member of the Hawks’ clean audit task team, Lieutenant-Colonel Ngoako Frans Mphaki, says in an affidavit that Gumede and Mthembu are alleged to have “played a major role” in appointing the four companies, and had “influenced the appointments” of personnel in the arms of the City responsible for supply chain and human resources.

It is alleged that the City’s deputy head of strategic and new development, Robert Abbu, had “deliberately” delayed the process to appoint new suppliers for waste removal so he could misrepresent that there was an “emergency” to appoint new service providers after the previous contract expired in 2016.

Abbu is alleged to have contravened supply chain management procedures in awarding the contract to the four companies.

Despite the DSW’s annual budget for illegal dumping collection being R5 million and it having a total budget of R45 million, Abbu allegedly allowed the four companies an “unlimited” budget for illegal dumping, for which the companies then raked in R130 million. The four companies were taking on work previously done by 27 contractors.

None of the companies were registered with eThekwini’s supplier database, nor did they even have the trucks or infrastructure to collect refuse when the tender was awarded.

When the time came for eThekwini’s City Integrity and Investigation Unit (CIIU) to look at potential corruption, Gumede and Mthembu allegedly interfered with investigations to the point where the head of the CIIU “refused to make evidence available” and was suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Mphaki also alleged that information the Hawks received from eThekwini suggested that the two “instructed” employees on which companies to choose, and that they had “consistently interfered” in the employees’ duties.

The accused in the matter are the four companies; Abbu; Sandile Ngcobo, the chairperson of the City’s tender Bid Adjudication Committee; Bongani Dlomo; Khobuso Dlomo; Prabagaran Pariah; Zithulele Mkhize; Mzwandile Dludla; Sithamone Ponnan; Hlenga Sibisi; Craig Ponnan; Mthembu and Gumede.

They are all out on R50 000 bail

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