Zandile Gumede and her eThekwini regional leadership face the chop

The ANC is set to disband its eThekwini regional executive committee after its chairperson, Zandile Gumede, who is also the mayor of the eThekwini municipality, was arrested on corruption charges.

The move follows revelations that the Hawks are planning to arrest 62 ANC councillors in the city — a number of whom are members of the executive committee — in connection with a waste disposal tender scam, which has cost the city R208-million.

The arrest of Gumede and eThekwini speaker Mondli Mthembu, who is also the ANC’s deputy regional
secretary, has started to negatively affect the functioning of the city council, with opposition parties on Tuesday walking out of a council housing committee meeting that Mthembu chaired.

As part of their bail conditions, the two are prohibited from participating in any city council structure or meeting that may have an effect on the matter against them. The Democratic Alliance (DA) said Mthembu had violated these conditions by chairing the meeting.

On the same day, the ANC’s provincial working committee met and recommended that the eThekwini regional executive committee be disbanded and replaced with a regional task team. The decision will be fine-tuned and confirmed this weekend, when the ANC holds a two-day provincial executive committee meeting, followed by a two-day lekgotla.

The provincial working committee resolved that Gumede should stand down from the office of mayor for the duration of the court case and that, should she again refuse to do so, the party would suspend her.

Three senior ANC provincial sources confirmed the decision, which comes after the province had tried to convince Gumede, who was arrested shortly after the May 8 elections, to step down. Gumede has thus far resisted the governing party’s instruction that she take a leave of absence while her court case, which resumes in the Durban commercial crimes court in August, is finalised.

She has since chaired the city’s executive committee and presented a budget speech, sparking an outcry from opposition parties, who said she too had violated her bail conditions in doing so.

The Hawks’ clean audit task team, which has been investigating corruption in the city, arrested contractor Craig Ponnan, Gumede and Mthembu in relation to the waste disposal tender allegedly awarded irregularly to four contractors, who had no experience in waste management and did not do any work but were nevertheless paid.

The contract ballooned from R5-million to R130-million in six months.

“The PWC [provincial working committee] decided that the entire REC [regional executive committee] should be disbanded and replaced with an RTT [regional task team] to run the ANC in the region until conference is held,” said a member of the ANC’s provincial executive committee, who is not mandated to speak to the media.

“It is not clear what role she [Gumede] will play in the RTT, given the severity of the charges, but there is a recommendation that it be convened by a deployee from the province to prevent problems ahead of the regional conference.

“There is a belief that she should not play any role because of the court case. There is an understanding that the REC has to stand down and a new leadership be elected if we are to prevent the loss of the metro,” the committee member said.

A second committee source said the ANC was concerned about losing Durban and Pietermaritzburg, which has been placed under administration, in the 2021 local government elections. “Governance is collapsing in both [cities] and people are tired. We barely made 50% in the metro this time around. What’s going to happen in 2021?”

Gumede’s arrest came after those of several contractors, the city’s deputy head of solid waste, Robert Abbu, and supply-chain management head Sandile Ngcobo. The contract had previously been awarded to a group of 27 contractors.

The red flag was first raised by the municipality’s city integrity and investigations unit, which appointed an external forensic investigator to probe the waste disposal contract and several other tenders, including those for low-cost housing projects that allegedly were not completed, the installation and cleaning of temporary toilets and the city’s refuse bag tender.

The unit has completed several reports, which have been given to the Hawks’ clean audit team. These form the basis for the investigations that are taking place.

A senior city official, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said that one of the investigations had focused on the city’s human settlements department. “There are dubious appointments under investigation, along with a series of human settlement projects [that] were intended to provide low-cost housing but were never completed.”

Gumede has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has linked her arrest and the investigations into her to a political conspiracy to unseat her. A close ally of former president Jacob Zuma, Gumede backed the “status quo” slate during the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference last year, which lost. Since then she has been increasingly out of step with the provincial leadership, which was elected on the “unity” ticket that backed President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC’s national conference in December 2017.

Gumede has indicated her intention to stand for a second term as chairperson of the region, despite the charges. She will probably be challenged by Thabani Nyawose, the Ward 66 branch chairperson.

Nyawose was elected deputy chair of the region in 2015 on the same ticket as the former chair and mayor, James Nxumalo, but the result was later set aside. A re-run of the conference was won by Gumede’s faction, after the grouping led by Nxumalo and Nyawose pulled out over the alleged rigging of the process. Gumede became mayor in 2016.

Dates and processes for the eThekwini and Moses Mabhida regional conferences are set to be discussed at the provincial executive committee and the lekgotla.

Gumede’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Gumede, said the mayor had not stood down and would do so only if formally instructed by the party.

The DA’s chief whip in eThekwini, Zamani Khuzwayo, said the party will write to the Hawks to find out whether Mthembu has violated his bail conditions by chairing the
committee meeting.

“This committee deals with both DSW [the cleansing and solid waste unit] and departmental unit heads, which were mentioned in Mthembu’s bail conditions,” Khuzwayo said.

“We would like some clarity from the prosecutor and the investigating officer as we are not convinced that Mthembu is doing what the court ordered him to do,” he said.

ANC provincial secretary Mdu­miseni Ntuli said the discussion was “still ongoing” and that a decision would be made on Friday. A recommendation would then be made to the provincial executive committee, which would make a final decision on Gumede’s fate.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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