In the balance: Zandile Gumede was granted bail during a court appearance for tender fraud. (Jackie Clausen/Gallo/The Times)
As Durban mayor Zandile Gumede fights for her political life, Hawks investigators are preparing to move against a further 62 eThekwini councillors. The councillors are implicated in the R208-million tender fraud over which Gumede appeared in court on Tuesday.
Gumede, the chair of the ANC’s powerful eThekwini region and one of former president Jacob Zuma’s staunchest supporters, was released on bail of R50 000.
This week calls for her to step down as mayor came from the ANC and its youth league.
The 62 ward and proportional representation councillors are alleged to have received kickbacks from contractors, one of whom was arrested two weeks ago. That arrest was in connection with a waste management tender and came in the first wave of arrests by the Hawks Clean Audit Task Team, which has been probing corruption in the city since last year.
Investigating officer Colonel Frans Mpaki said payments had been made from the company account of the contractor, Hlenga Sibisi, to councillors and members of the controversial Delangokubona Business Forum. The forum has been involved in hijacking construction projects around the city.
Mpaki said the case had been brought to court before the investigation was complete because of intimidation of witnesses and fear that evidence would be destroyed.
An impeccable source in the National Prosecuting Authority said preparations were starting so that the rest of the suspects could be brought to court.
“The process is moving with more speed now,” the source said.
Gumede appeared in court along with city council speaker Mondli Mthembu and contractor Craig Ponnan.
Gumede and Mthembu, who allegedly incited a protest march on the Durban city hall last month to force municipal manager Sipho Nzuza to sign off on irregular payments, were warned not to interfere with witnesses or face forfeiting their bail.
Prosecutor Ashika Lucken told the court that Durban Solid Waste deputy head Robert Abbu had manipulated a 2016 waste removal tender to award it, using emergency powers, to four contractors.
The R5-million tender had been shared among 27 contractors, but was given to the four, none of whom had waste management experience, facilities, vehicles or staff.
The tender was further manipulated to allow the contractors to submit unlimited claims, with payments for work that was not done ballooning to R130-million in six months.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said outside court that the unit expected to make further arrests in the case, but gave no details.
Gumede and eThekwini regional secretary Bheki Ntuli were set to meet the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC), which decided earlier this year that any member charged with a serious offence should step down.
Last month Newcastle mayor Ntuthuko Mahlaba was given 30 days to resign from office after being arrested for the murder of ANC Youth League eMalahleni official Wandile Ngobeni in 2016.
The PEC was set to do the same with Gumede and Mthembu at Thursday’s meeting, the outcome of which was not known at the time of going to print.
Ntokozo Madlala, the spokesperson for the eThekwini region, said they would meet to discuss Gumede’s arrest after the meeting with the province.
The province’s youth league has already called for Gumede to resign from office and opposition parties have put pressure on the ANC to recall her.
Gumede, who backed the unsuccessful “status quo” slate aligned to Zuma at the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference last June, has since been under fire from the youth league in the province — and out of step politically with much of the provincial leadership.
She also faces a challenge as regional chairperson when eThekwini holds its regional conference later this year from a bloc headed by Ntuli. The conference was postponed on instruction of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) ahead of the elections.
“The conference has to happen this year,” said Madlala. “It was postponed on instruction of the NEC because of elections. The elections are over now and we are awaiting the date from the NEC.”