South Africa

CORRUPTION

eThekwini municipal manager to join Zandile Gumede in court

Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. (Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Jackie Clausen)

In the high-stakes multimillion-rand criminal case against former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, the city’s municipal manager, Sipho Nzuza, who was largely believed to have blown the whistle on Gumede, will now join her in the dock as a co-accused.

In April 2019 former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, as detailed in the charge sheet, is alleged to have “incited” a march on Durban City Hall against the city’s municipal manager, Sipho Nzuza.

But come 16 April 2020, they will be side by side in the dock, quite literally. Gumede is Accused 16 and Nzuza is Accused 17.

The investigation is being led by the Hawks, but the initial evidence was the result of an internal investigation run by the city’s own investigations unit, known as the City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU).

Nzuza faces charges of fraud along with Gumede and the 15 other accused for their role in a corrupt Durban Solid Waste (DSW) refuse collection contract valued at R430-million; the amount was adjusted upwards as the investigation deepened.

Nzuza appeared before the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Tuesday.

He appeared before Judge Gareth Davis in a crisp, dark suit and with a fresh haircut, and walked into the dock under police guard.

Senior state prosecutor Ashika Lucken read the matter into the court record and said the state did not oppose bail.

Nzuza was granted bail of R50,000. 

Lucken told the court the complainant in the matter was the CIIU.

During a short interval in proceedings, Nzuza remained in the dock and turned around with a broad smile to face the bevvy of journalists in the gallery. 

The other accused in the case are DSW’s deputy head for strategic and new developments, Robert Abbu; the city’s supply chain manager and chairman of the bid adjudication committee, Sandile Ngcobo; and senior city councillor Mondli Mthembu, the former chair of the municipality’s infrastructure committee.

The remainder of those charged are companies that have been represented in court by their owners. 

All the accused are facing a variety of charges including fraud, fraud by omission, corruption, contravention of the Municipal Financial Management Act, contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, contravention of the Organised Crime Act and contravention of the Local Government Municipal Act.

The scam, as detailed in previous court papers, is a simple formula that is used often in municipalities to circumvent tender processes.

Prior to 2016, private contractors had been hired to collect refuse in most of eThekwini’s former townships, such as Umlazi. Those contracts were set to expire in 2016, which also happened to be the year of local government elections that saw Gumede, who was also the chairperson of the ANC in eThekwini, elected mayor.

It is alleged that Abbu orchestrated a crisis by deliberately not releasing the tender timeously, which led to the need for an emergency tender.

He then allegedly forced the deals to be awarded on an emergency basis to hand-picked contractors Omphile Thabang Projects, Ilanga LaMahlase Projects, Uzuzinekele Trading 31 and El Shaddai Holdings Group.

They, in turn, subcontracted the work to others.

It is alleged that Gumede and former senior councillor Mondli Mthembu influenced which companies and subsidiaries were selected.

The contractors were then allegedly given what can only be described as a blank cheque, with all budget thresholds removed, for the collection of illegally dumped rubbish.

It is further suspected that invoices were generated on fraudulently obtained weighbridge readings, with eight weighbridge officials arrested in December 2019.

This resulted in massive escalations in invoicing from the accused companies. They would each invoice the municipality from R850,000 to R5.1-million per month.

The emergency contracts were rolled over every three months until they were terminated in June 2019. This happened under Nzuza’s watch.

Nzuza’s exact role in the alleged scam is yet to be clearly defined, besides the obvious – that as the accounting officer he would have needed to authorise any large payments.

In his affidavit, read into the court record by his advocate on Tuesday for bail purposes, Nzuza said he had not been informed of the charges “other than the broad heading of fraud”.

This fits a pattern in the investigation as Gumede bemoaned not being given specific charges, a fact often used by her supporters as evidence that she is the victim of a political witch-hunt.

Gumede was removed as mayor because her alleged involvement in the tender racket caused a PR stink for the African National Congress. The party, however, said she was being “deployed” because of inadequate governing of the city, which is equally damning.

Nevertheless, Nzuza’s bail affidavit cemented the fact that he is a state witness. He said he had been talking to investigators for nearly a year and would continue to do so despite being told he was implicated in the case. 

“This co-operation and interaction with investigators has taken place over a period [of almost] a year. This co-operation was provided notwithstanding several implications by the investigators that I was implicated. Not once did I react to such implications in a manner that would suggest any obstruction to the investigators/investigations,” said Nzuza in his affidavit.

The political undertones in this case – which can best be described as a feeding frenzy when reading through the documentation – cannot be avoided.

Gumede was once a Jacob Zuma acolyte, as was the provincial ANC leadership. But the leadership gradually warmed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, if only for political expediency.

 eThekwini municipality released a brief statement after Nzuza’s appearance. It said service delivery would not be affected and that the “[city] leadership is appealing to be given space to process the matter internally”. A comprehensive statement was to follow later in the week.

DA eThekwini caucus leader Nicole Graham said the court’s allegations that Nzuza “aligned himself with tender outcomes” and “colluded” with the accused, was evidence that the city was corrupt “from the top to the bottom”.

“The core of this problem is that line departments and city functions have been captured by ANC councillors and comrades in their quest to loot the city’s coffers”.

She said court proceedings had already revealed that there were 58 councillors likely to be implicated although they had yet to be named or arrested.

“Our sources indicate that more arrests are imminent, and we encourage the Hawks to act swiftly in bringing these councillors to justice,” said Graham. DM

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