Durban mayor in dock over ‘dirty’ R208m tender

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Two days after her birthday, eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede looked festive in her red party dress on Tuesday. 
However, instead of being toasted and celebrated, Gumede, chairperson of the eThekwini branch of the ANC, found herself in the dock of the Durban Commercial Crimes Court where she is facing charges of fraud and corruption relating to a R208m Durban Solid Waste tender awarded in 2016.
Gumede, 58, appeared alongside eThekwini councillor Mondli Mthembu, who is also the chairperson of the infrastructure committee, and a service provider, Craig Ponnan of El Shaddai Holdings group CC, amid a heavy security presence.
During their brief appearance, Gumede wore a stony expression, sometimes putting on a brave smile during the proceedings.
She and her co-accused were granted bail of R50,000 each, with stringent conditions, by magistrate Dawn Soomaroo.
Gumede, who rose from a PR councillor through the ranks to the highest political office in the city, is a staunch supporter of former president Jacob Zuma. 
Gumede and Mthembu’s bail conditions prevent them from communicating with municipal officials and employees from the city’s finance division, Durban Solid Waste, supply chain management, interfering with the functions and operations of the city, refraining from accessing information or reports relating to the investigation, and taking part in disciplinary actions against officials facing charges relating to similar investigations.
It also emerged that the arrest of Gumede and the other two suspects had to be brought forward due to the alleged intimidation of witnesses.
Gumede and Mthembu are accused of playing a major role in awarding the tender and influencing the appointment of service providers.
It was also alleged that the city’s bid adjudication committees were instructed by Gumede and Mthembu which companies were to be awarded tenders.
Since being sworn into the mayoral office in 2016, Gumede has found herself on the wrong side of public opinion and allegations.
She is accused of instigating a march to the city hall last month where demonstrators demanded the removal of city manager Sipho Nzuza, who was considered to be a stumbling block in the awarding of tenders.
The three suspects were arrested as part of a Hawks investigation into the Durban Solid Waste tender where service providers were allegedly paid huge amounts of money even though they did not render services.
Their arrest followed that of nine senior eThekwini municipality officials and service providers two weeks ago in connection with the same tender.
The nine suspects are eThekwini municipality deputy head of strategy and new development Robert Abbu, 62, supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo, 41, Hlenga Sibisi, 43, Mzwandile Dludla, 24, Sinthamone Ponnan, 55, Sithulele Mkhize, 38, Bongani Dlomo, 53, Prabagaram Pariah,61, and Khoboso Dlomo, 50. They are all due back in court again on August 8.
It was widely touted that Gumede would be arrested before the May 8 general elections but that a deal had been struck with the Hawks to delay her arrest since it would have tarnished the image of the ANC before the elections.
But this was denied by Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi outside court on Tuesday.
“I don’t know where the deal is coming from and I think it’s neither there nor here. We deal with investigations and I think what is critical as well, we need to make sure that the prosecutors that we’re working with, we arm them with information. For us to rush investigations will compromise everything. So the issues of elections or no elections don’t feature,” he said.
The eThekwini municipality issued a short statement after Gumede’s and Mthembu’s court appearance, saying it "abides by the legal principle of innocent until proven otherwise” and assured residents that this matter would not have an impact on service delivery.
Allegations that Gumede facilitated money laundering, fraud and corruption to grease cronies’ palms first surfaced in May 2018 after it emerged that she was under investigation by the Hawks.
It followed a report by City Press that a hard-hitting forensic report, which informed the Hawks investigation, found that Gumede summoned a municipal official to her home to demand that a R25m tender go to hand-picked companies. The report stated that these companies may have belonged “to councillors and political figures that had supported Gumede in her political endeavours and that councillor Gumede owed them a token of gratitude in the form of contracts from eThekwini.”
The forensic report, compiled by Integrity Forensic Solutions, named Gumede, Mthembu and three other officials for allegedly orchestrating a corruption and “money-laundering scam.” The alleged scam involved eThekwini paying R25m to hire about 800 chemical toilets for six months. Before this, the city, had, for three years, paid about R3m to hire toilets.
But Gumede quickly convened a media briefing after the publication of the story in City Press during which she vehemently denied the allegations. She insisted that her administration would “drive a corruption-free city” and added that eThekwini had a zero-tolerance stance on all forms of corruption, fraud and maladministration.
This was despite the fact that auditor-general Kimi Makwethu was forced to pull out his staff from the municipality after they received death threats while conducting an audit of the city’s finances.
Gumede has also been accused of being instrumental in the hiring of 50 uMkhonto WeSizwe military veterans by the eThekwini municipality whose salaries more than doubled in a year.
Last week, the city’s water, sanitation and electricity employees, upset over monthly increases of R9,000 to R20,000 given to the veterans, went on strike, and on the rampage in the CBD, demanding the same for them. The damage estimated by premier Willies Mchunu was about R3.5m.
Refuse was left uncollected in many suburbs during the days leading last Wednesday’s elections as a result of the strike and some refuse still remains uncollected in many parts of Durban.
While Gumede hasn't been suspended, she has found herself increasingly out of favour with the ANCYL in the province. 
In march, the ANC Youth League in eThekwini slammed Gumede, over a video doing the rounds on social media purportedly showing her refusing to shake hands with the league's provincial secretary, Thanduxolo Sabelo.
For now, Gumede enjoys the indulgence of the ANC in the province, despite widespread speculation that KZN premier designate, Sihle Zikalala, has a less-than-cordial relationship with her.
The regional executive committee issued a statement calling for justice to prevail.
Nevertheless, it seems Gumede has a strong band of supporters who jostled with media representatives outside court on Tuesday, holding up their jackets and bags to prevent her picture from being taken.
She and her co-accused return to court in August...

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