eThekwini’s criminally charged city manager, Sipho Nzuza, believes that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) “erred” when deciding on his bail conditions. He further warned the metro’s leadership on Tuesday that it should “be careful” in passing judgment on his ability to perform his duties.
Nzuza made the statement while addressing the city’s executive committee at the tail end of a virtual meeting.
There had been sustained debate throughout proceedings, raised by the Democratic Alliance, as to whether Nzuza was in breach of his bail conditions, which precluded him from being involved in any supply-chain-management matters.
Nzuza was making a case for needing the support of the metro’s leadership to carry out his duties.
He was charged on 10 March 2020 for his alleged role in the R430-million Durban Solid Waste corruption and fraud case. His co-accused include the city’s former mayor Zandile Gumede, former senior ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu, former Durban Solid Waste head Robert Abbu, former head of supply chain management Sandile Ngcobo, and several companies and their owners.
Gumede is now a member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, although she has “stepped aside” pending a report by the ANC’s provincial integrity commission into the charges.
Mthembu is still a councillor, Abbu has retired and Ngcobo is back at work, but has been shifted to the disaster management unit to circumnavigate his bail conditions.
During Nzuza’s bail application, he made it known that he had been co-operating with authorities for almost a year before being charged. It is believed that he is a key state witness in the matter.
He was subsequently suspended and placed on special leave, but not because of the criminal charges. Instead, his suspension occurred after the awarding of a R90-million tender to the politically connected Pietermaritzburg-based accounting and consulting firm Morar Incorporated in 2017.
The firm was hired to investigate the city’s troubled revenue management system, among other matters.
eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, who publicly supports Nzuza but has privately tried to convince him to not return to work, told the executive committee that it was a “new phenomenon in the municipality where the city manager cannot do certain things”.
“The challenge for all of us is this is the first time any of us find ourselves in this position. We should always touch base with [the legal department] to give an opinion as to which tasks you are allowed to do and which one you are not allowed,” said Kaunda.
He said the situation would be fraught with challenges, and that a misstep could be detrimental to the metro.
Earlier in the meeting, Kaunda told councillors that all tasks related to supply chain management and procurement would now be handled by the deputy city manager, Sipho Cele.
Just moments before Nzuza spoke, Kaunda publicly removed him from the responsibility of handling the city’s internal audit into Covid-19 expenses and placed it in the hands of Cele.
This was after eThekwini’s DA caucus leader, Nicole Graham, signalled that Nzuza’s involvement in that report, which focuses on procurement issues, was likely in breach of his bail conditions.
The city is yet to conclude an internal audit into its Covid-19 expenditure of R456 683 170. The amount includes R85-million spent on personal protective equipment, R69-million spent on social relief and just over R100-million in overtime for metro police, human settlements, and Durban Solid Waste workers.
Nzuza sounded a warning to the executive committee, telling members not to be “swayed in the wrong direction” about his abilities to conduct his duties. Such an approach could render the municipality “unmanageable”, he said.
“I know that the executive committee is trying to assist me with my bail conditions, but I just want to bring something to the attention of the committee. We must not confuse the issues of my bail conditions, which expose me to the danger of being prosecuted [if breached], with the issues that [could] be crippling me in the work that I am doing,” he said.
Nzuza said he believed he could still involve himself in some aspects of the procurement process, such as the internal audit of the city’s Covid-19 spend, on which he could comment and ask questions.
“So be careful. We do not want to get into [a situation] … in the municipality where I become useless in your judgment, which is misinformed,” he said. “I want to make this clear, otherwise you are going to be swayed in the wrong direction and it will make this municipality unmanageable — some of the things that the prosecutor put [in the bail conditions], in my opinion, was in err [sic].”
When Nzuza returned to work in September he found he could not access his office on the instruction of the mayor. Hours later he issued a letter, which was leaked to the press, in which he claimed Kaunda had told him in a telephonic conversation that the ANC did not want him back at work.
“I got the distinct impression that I was being pressured to take special leave under the pain of towing (unknown and unexplained) political line [sic],” read the letter.
The KwaZulu-Natal ANC has repeatedly intervened in the affairs of the city, which has a hefty R49.8-billion budget. In September 2019 the party removed Gumede as mayor, together with her executive, over “performance issues” and inserted Kaunda as the political head.