After over two years of delays and postponements, the corruption trial of former eThekwini mayor and ANC MPL in the KZN legislature, Zandile Gumede, and her 20 other co-accused moves to the Durban High Court on Monday, laying the ground for them to finally be prosecuted.
Since April 2019 when Gumede and some of the co-accused were arrested (others were arrested at a later stage), the matter was handled by the lower Durban Commercial Crimes Court until March this year.
After the State indicted the accused and provided them with the evidence to prepare their defence, Magistrate Dawn Soomaro then moved the case to the higher court. Today’s sitting will be a pre-trial proceeding that will include setting the dates for the leading of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses by legal teams.
Gumede and her co-accused, who include suspended eThekwini city manager Sipho Nzuza, former supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo, Robert Abbu (a former eThekwini municipality senior employee) and senior ANC councillor in the eThekwini Municipality, Mondli Mthembu, are accused of corruption, money laundering and fraud.
The charges emanate from a R320 million waste contract that was issued by the eThekwini municipality in 2017 while Gumede was the mayor. The State prepared a 374-page indictment and, in total, the 21 accused are facing 2 786 charges. The indictment singles out 9 of the 21 accused as the “main role-players“.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in KwaZulu-Natal, advocate Elaine Zungu, said the matter would be in court for pre-trial conferencing only.
“The matter is in the court for pre-trial conferencing only. Whether or not the court will require the accused to plead, I cannot say. The judiciary remain in charge of what will happen in court,” Zungu said when asked by Independent Media what exactly the public could expect to see in court today.
Gumede said that according to her understanding, as briefed by her legal team led by Jay Naidoo, it would be a pre-trial sitting and there would probably be no pleading.
“It’s just the start and it will be a pre-trial sitting only, that’s what I know,” Gumede said.
As with previous appearances, Gumede will have the moral support of her ANC supporters outside the court. On Thursday last week the supporters met in Durban to finalise their plans. Their spokesperson, Ntando Khuzwayo, an ANC branch leader in eThekwini and a councillor in the eThekwini Municipality, said that as the country was currently on level 2 of the Covid-19 lockdown, they would ensure that all regulations were followed.
Moreover, Khuzwayo said that although Gumede was not allowed to address ANC gatherings because she had been forced to step aside, she would address her supporters as their gathering would not be a party event.
“Definitely she will address us as her supporters because that will not be an ANC event. Remember that the ANC said people who are attending court cases should not be supported, so we will be there in our personal capacity, not as ANC members,” Khuzwayo said.
After the meeting on Thursday, Khuzwayo said they hoped that there would be no further delays on the matter.
“We have faith that Durban High Court will not allow itself to be used as a political battlefield. Justice must be seen to be done, and all should be treated equally and fairly,” Khuzwayo said.
This was in reference to previous utterances by Gumede and her supporters that she had been charged as a ploy to prevent her from contesting the elections in the ANC eThekwini region, among other perceived motives.
Gumede did not want to be drawn into whether after the hearing she would address her supporters, saying “Can I not comment on that, please.”