City Press 14 May 2019

eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and council speaker Mondli Mthembu are alleged to have organised a service delivery protest to force the city’s municipal manager into paying service providers who were given illegal tenders.

This revelation is contained in an affidavit by an investigating officer from the Hawks’ Clean Audit Task Team, which is now before the Commercial Crimes Court in Durban.

Gumede and Mthembu handed themselves over to the Hawks and appeared in the same court on Tuesday charged with corruption, fraud and money laundering. They were granted bail of R50 000 each.

City Press has learned that the investigating officer detailed how Gumede and Mthembu brought the municipal offices and the city centre to a standstill sometime in 2017 with an apparent service delivery protest. The protest was only organised after the two came up against resistance from the city’s municipal manager at the time.

Although the affidavit provides no further details about the date of the protest or the name of the municipal manager, he alleges that the protest came about after the city manager was reluctant to pay the service providers who received the unlawful tenders. The city lost a total of R136 million to those who had received the illegal tenders to do refuse removal.

“The protest was aimed at pressurising the municipal manager into making unlawful payments to the four companies who were being investigated for having unduly benefited from the multi-million rand tenders,” said one law enforcement source privy to the details.

Outside court on Tuesday morning, a group of protesters wearing eThekwini shirts formed a human shield barring journalists and photographers from taking photographs of the mayor and the speaker.

They, with the help of police, used jackets and handbags to prevent the media from accessing Gumede and Mthembu who had just been granted bail.

Speaking to journalists outside court, Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said the arrests of the two were expedited after possible witnesses were intimidated and threatened.

“Witnesses were intimidated and there were also threats. That’s why we had to effect arrests,” said Mulaudzi, who added that city officials were reluctant to give evidence, allegedly on the instruction of the mayor and the speaker.

Gumede has now been warned by the court, as per her bail conditions, to stay away from the city’s supply chain management officials, as well as others in the city’s human resources department and its legal and finance officials.

Gumede and co-accused face 63 charges

The drastic bail conditions, which severely limit her powers, were placed on her by the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Tuesday morning when Gumede, Mthembu, and businessman Craig Ponnen appeared in court facing a slew of corruption-related charges.

According to the charge sheet, which City Press has obtained, Gumede and 15 of her co-accused face a total of 63 charges ranging from fraud, money laundering and corruption.

Gumede and her co-accused were not asked to plead to the charges. She was also ordered to hand over her passport, told not to apply for a new one, and now has to notify the police when she leaves KwaZulu-Natal and when she changes her residential address.

The charge sheet states that Gumede and Mthembu allegedly turned the screws on their officials to break the law.

“The accused, in their capacity as the mayor of eThekwini Municipality and councillor at the municipality, did unlawfully and/or wilfully, [and] deliberately influence or attempted to influence the accounting officer, the chief financial officer, senior managers, or any other official of the municipality to contravene a provision of this act or to refrain from complying with the requirements of the municipal finance management act,” the charge sheet states.

Gumede and Mthembu are also alleged to have influenced “officials from the Cleansing and Solid Waste unit and Supply Chain Management, which resulted in an engagement in an unlawful procurement process for refuse collection, street cleaning and illegal dumping for various townships within the jurisdiction of the eThekwini municipality.”

Gumede ‘swindled’ municipality of R136m

Prosecutor Ashika Lucken told the court that Gumede, with the assistance of one of the accused, awarded contracts to four service providers without going to tender after allowing the previous contracts to expire to create grounds for emergency procurement.

And when that happened, a line item was allegedly created without a limit so that the service providers were able to allegedly swindle the municipality out of more than R136 million.

“Companies were imposed to be subcontracted on the appointed service providers,” said Lucken, adding that at least R136 million was claimed from the city within six months.

According to the prosecution the appointed service providers, who are also among the accused in this case, were not on the municipality’s database, did not have trucks or the capacity to do the work, had no office and no waste removal certificates either.

Gumede and her co-accused will re-appear in court on August 8 to join the other accused who were arrested earlier this year.

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