Upwards and Out for Mayor Gumede?

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal may move its corruption-accused mayor, Zandile Gumede, to the provincial legislature. The move is an attempt to resolve the impasse with her supporters over the party’s decision to place her on special leave until her case is concluded. It also comes as calls for the eThekwini municipality to be placed under administration continue to mount.

Gumede’s supporters in the region and the province have taken to the streets several times to demand her return to office on the expiry of the imposed 30-day leave of absence, which she took after being arrested on corruption charges in May.

On Thursday, after gathering at about 5am and blockading the Durban City Hall, protesters clashed with police. They vowed to continue protesting until Gumede is returned to office.

Her supporters also began to mobilise workers from the city’s Expanded Public Works Programme, many of whom were employed during her tenure, against acting mayor Fawzia Peer and city treasurer Krish Kumar. They are accusing the pair of refusing to pay the programme’s staff. The city’s Expanded Public Works Programme budget currently stands at R240-million, only R75-million of which comes from grants from the national public works department.

The plan — if approved by the party’s provincial executive committee (PEC) meeting at the end of the month — will see Gumede being replaced by either KwaZulu-Natal transport MEC Mxolisi Kaunda or his economic development counterpart, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, rather than by Peer, her sitting deputy and the acting mayor.

Although Peer has a strong lobby backing her to continue as mayor, she has been under fire from Gumede’s supporters. Two weeks ago, Peer was rushed to hospital after a poisoning scare at a council meeting.

This week, Gumede’s supporters called for the removal of Peer and city manager Sipho Nzuza, who is reported to have turned state witness against Gumede in the R208-million waster management tender scam that saw Gumede being forced to take leave.

Gumede was arrested shortly after the May  8 election — together with ANC eThekwini deputy secretary and city executive council member Mondli Mthembu and contractor Craig Ponnan — by a Hawks team appointed to probe a number of allegations of corruption in the city.

She was granted bail of R50 000 and will appear in the Durban commercial crimes court together with her co-accused on August 8. The accused include top city supply chain management and solid waste department staff and a number of contractors.

A city staff member, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said Gumede’s staff had delayed handing reports to Peer this week because they were “waiting for Mama to come back to the office this week”.

“Things are very tense here. The city manager is surrounded by bodyguards because he is now a witness against the mayor and can’t work properly. There was a march on Tuesday. We had to close the doors, which stopped us working. We can’t function properly under these conditions,” the staff member said.

On Monday Democratic Alliance KwaZulu-Natal MPL Mbali Ntuli wrote to co-operative governance MEC Sipho Hlomuka requesting a meeting to discuss placing eThekwini under administration.

Ntuli said the ANC had clearly failed to “determine a way forward” regarding Gumede and that Hlomuka “now has a moral and constitutional obligation not to allow this situation to persist and to intervene”.

ANC and provincial government sources have indicated that a more likely outcome is for Gumede and councillors implicated in the alleged corruption to be removed from office and replaced.

“There are only two years to go to the local government elections and it would be unwise to place a contested municipality like eThekwini under administration [given] these time frames,” said a government official who asked not to be named. “Moving individuals who are tainted is a safer option.”

The fact that the eThekwini council still made quorum would also mitigate against it being placed under administration, because such a move would be appropriate only if the council failed to function, he said.

Hlomuka’s spokesperson, Lennox Mabaso, said the MEC had received a number of requests to intervene in eThekwini and was conducting an assessment of the metro and the rest of KwaZulu-Natal’s municipalities.

“eThekwini and Msunduzi are among the priority municipalities that are high on the agenda of the MEC, who is very keen to ensure that he gets the municipalities to work better. He will announce a way forward in his budget speech next week,” Mabaso said.

In a television interview, ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said the decision on Gumede’s fate would be taken at the PEC meeting towards the end of July or the beginning of August. Ntuli said he did not expect Gumede to defy the party and come back to work because of a “technicality” over the expiry of the 30-day leave period.

He said the team dealing with the Gumede matter would make concrete proposals, which would then be considered by the PEC meeting.

“I don’t think she will take that decision [to return to work]. She is a member of the ANC who is familiar with its processes,” he said.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
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