Previously accused 16, Zandile Gumede (58) now takes pole position as accused number one.
Former senior ANC eThekwini councillor Mondli Mthembu has also moved up the ranks from accused 15 to accused number two. Suspended city manager Sipho Nzuza is now accused number three. He was previously number 17.
The trio was seated in the dock of the Durban High Court on Monday throughout proceedings, while their co-accused flowed across several court benches.
The ANC heavyweight and her 21 co-accused – five of which are companies – were appearing for what should have been a pre-trial conference.
That, however, had to be delayed to 30 November so that the State could furnish the defence with further particulars following the filing of the amended indictment, which now includes racketeering charges.
Gumede strode briskly from the van transporting her to the court precinct, pushed her way through a gaggle of excited journalists, and made her way to courtroom B, where she sullenly settled on a wooden bench until being called in.
Once inside, she was greeted by Nzuza, who leant over her and whispered something evidently funny enough to elicit guffaws from both.
Video: Media swarm former eThekwini mayor #ZandileGumede as she exits a vehicle and bounds into the Durban High Court for the pre trial conference in the R320 million Durban Solid Waste tender case. Gumede is one of 22 accused, including 5 companies. @dailymaverick pic.twitter.com/9Ry9mp6IPP
— Des Erasmus (@IcikoMedia) June 14, 2021
Proceedings were rote.
Senior prosecutor Ashika Lucken told KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Achmat Jappie that the pre-trial conference could not proceed because “certain matters” had come to light, including that the attorneys for some of the accused had withdrawn.
Senior counsel Jimmy Howse and attorney Carl van Der Merwe later informed Jappie that they were trying to sort out payment for their services – the result of the assets of their clients being seized.
Howse is representing accused five Sandile Ngcobo, while Van Der Merwe is representing accused 15 Bongani Dlomo, accused 16 Khoboso Dlomo and their company, Omphile Thabang Projects, accused 17.
Howse said he had made an application for the release of “substantial assets in the form of cash” from the Asset Forfeiture Unit last week. He told Jappie he was “meeting resistance” in getting the assets released “and I am not sure why”.
As previously reported by Daily Maverick, Ngcobo was chairperson of eThekwini’s Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) at the time of the alleged tender corruption. He was shifted to the municipality’s disaster management unit in October 2020 to circumnavigate his bail conditions and remain employed.
It was decided by Jappie that the defence teams should file their request for particulars relating to the amended indictment by 15 August, and that the State should respond by 15 October. Thereafter, all parties would meet again on 30 November to ascertain whether they were ready for the tentative trial date of 18 July 2022.
According to the amended indictment, the accused are now, in order:
- Zandile Gumede;
- Mondli Mthembu;
- Sipho Nzuza;
- Robert Abbu, who at the time of the alleged crimes was Durban Solid Waste’s deputy head for strategic and new developments;
- Sandile Ngcobo;
- Councillor Mthokozisi Nojiyeza;
- Councillor Sduduzo Khuzwayo;
- Councillor Bhekokwakhe Phewa;
- Bagcinile Nzuza, the wife of Sipho Nzuza;
- Project manager Hlenga Sibisi;
- Businessman Mzwandile Dladla;
- Dladla’s company Ilanga la Mahlase Pty Ltd;
- Businessman Zithulele Mkhize;
- Mkhize’s company Uzuzinekele Trading CC;
- Businessman Bongani Dlomo;
- Businessman Khoboso Dlomo;
- The Dlomos’ company, Omphile Thabang Projects;
- Businessman Craig Ponnan;
- Businessman Prabagaran Pariah;
- Pariah’s company El Shaddai Holdings Group CC;
- Businesswoman Sithamone Ponnan; and
- Ponnan’s company Umvuyo Holdings Group CC.
The accused are together facing 2,793 different counts on charges that include racketeering, fraud, fraud by omission, corruption, contravention of the Municipal Finance 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 Systems Act.
According to the amended indictment, the accused “formed an enterprise” – the basis for facing racketeering offences.
“At all relevant times to the indictment, Gumede, Mthembu, Sipho Nzuza, Abbu and Ngcobo were a group of individuals associated… and thus formed an enterprise as defined in Section 1 of the [Prevention of Organised Crime] Act.”
The accused allegedly used iLanga La Mahlase (Pty) Ltd, Uzuinekele Trading, Omphile Thabang Projects and Umvuyo Holdings CC to take part in the unlawful activities of the enterprise.
The indictment states that “the purpose of their association was to influence and manipulate the Durban Solid Waste Contracts via the [supply chain management] system of eThekwini Municipality” and once this was done, a “new DSW contract was then classified as a special project”.
“Abbu, on the instruction of Gumede and Mthembu, was appointed by Sipho Nzuza as head of special projects (a position specially created for him). Further, Nzuza then appointed Ngcobo as chairperson of the BAC for this specific project to ensure the appointment of the four preferred services providers”.
The special projects became the vehicle to drive the enterprise and the resultant fraud and corruption, to ensure that contracts were awarded to entities associated with Sibisi, Mzwandile Dludla, Zithulele Mkhize, Bongani Dlomo, Khoboso Dlomo, Craig Ponnan, Prabagaran Pariah and Sithamone Ponnan for the supply of services to eThekwini Municipality.
“This conduct would lead to their personal financial and/or non-patrimonial benefit and/or to the financial benefit of the associated group of individuals.”
The indictment further states that councillors Nojiyeza, Khuzwayo and Phewa, part of the ANC’s so-called Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction “and other councillors of the municipality, their political constituents and associates” aligned themselves with Gumede, Mthembu, Nzuza, Abbu and Ngcobo.
Gumede and Mthembu allegedly enabled several ANC ward councillors, ward committee members, members of business forums and organisations such as the MKMVA and Amadelangokubona business forum to benefit from the DSW tender so that Gumede would be viewed in a favourable light by the RET faction and be elevated politically.
As for Nzuza’s wife, Bagcinile, the indictment said she facilitated and participated in engagements with entities associated with the DSW tender “at all times when material decisions were being made in respect of the said tender”.
Hundreds of Gumede’s supporters – clad in ANC regalia – gathered outside the court, where a mobile stage had been erected. There, speakers pledged support for the former mayor, Jacob Zuma and for suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule.
According to Gumede’s supporters, the case is politically driven and a means to stop her contesting the upcoming ANC eThekwini regional conference. Gumede is a previous chair of the region and is set to be nominated by local branches to again take the powerful position. DM