Durban mayor ‘a law unto herself’

Durban mayor Zandile Gumede has defied instructions by ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal to stand down from office, after she was arrested and appeared in court over an allegedly corrupt city waste management tender.

Gumede, the ANC’s eThekwini chairperson, on Sunday refused to sign a letter from the party’s provincial officials instructing her to take a 30-day leave of absence, pending a final decision on her removal from office.

Instead, Gumede — whose supporters in the region marched on the ANC’s provincial headquarters last Friday to demand that she remain in office — turned up at City Hall on Monday, defying the ruling by the party’s provincial executive committee that members charged with serious offences should resign from public office.

The mayor was arrested last week in connection with a R208-million refuse removal contract. She was arrested along with eThekwini speaker Mondli Mthembu and contractor Craig Ponnan by a Hawks clean audit team, and granted bail of R50 000. Their arrests followed those of city officials and contractors allegedly involved in the tender, which was manipulated to award the contract to four unqualified companies that did not actually do the work.

Gumede is a staunch supporter of former president Jacob Zuma, who on Sunday tweeted his support for her. He suggested that her arrest and prosecution could, like his current corruption trial, be politically motivated.

An official from the eThekwini ANC region, who asked not to be identified, said Gumede had remained defiant despite the decision taken at Sunday’s four-hour meeting between the province and the region, where it was agreed that she stand down. “After the meeting they left her a letter saying she should resign or take 30 days leave while province and national decide what to do. She refused to sign it. She is a law unto herself. [She believes that] the region and the province can’t tell her what to do,” the source said.

ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said: “There is no decision as yet. The officials of the province met the officials of the region to receive a report on the matter. There will be a further engagement and the officials will brief the [relevant] structure of the ANC.” Gumede is at the centre of several other investigations by the Hawks team, which is probing corruption in procurement and tender awards across city departments, including water, waste management, information technology and infrastructure.

A Hawks source, who is not mandated to speak to the media, confirmed this week that they were investigating Gumede’s involvement in a number of other contracts awarded in other city departments. “This is not the only matter we are investigating. There are several cases that are currently active and which are not yet complete. There is a problem with getting people to come forward, because they are concerned about their own security.” Gumede did not attend a meeting of the city’s executive committee (Exco) this week, but she did attend several other city functions.

Her spokesperson, Mthunzi Gumede, said she was still in office and would continue with her work, but had not attended Exco because of her bail conditions.

“The mayor is still the mayor,” he said. “The ANC will communicate about her deployment should there be anything to communicate.”

In a televised interview on Monday, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule said Gumede’s fate would be left up to the provincial leadership to decide. “They will be giving us a report.”

Magashule said Luthuli House was “happy” with the way the ANC in the province was handling the matter, which would be “dealt with at some stage”.

A close associate of Gumede’s said she would not resign or take leave voluntarily because “this will be an acceptance of guilt, but if she is recalled, that is something else. She doesn’t want her reputation and that of the organisation to be further damaged by her issues.”

He added: “The ANC has a problem. What happens if she agrees to go and other councillors implicated are picked up? There will have to be 60-odd by-elections.

“There are also political implications at Exco. If two ANC councillors are removed (Gumede and Mthembu), the DA [Democratic Alliance] has three seats, the IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party] one and the ANC four. There will be a deadlock. These are the issues that the ANC has to consider,” said the associate.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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