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Port Elizabeth - No longer living in the lap of luxury, a well-known Port Elizabeth church leader now calls himself "a man of straw" after he was found guilty of soliciting bribes from a construction company to award it tenders to build hundreds of low-cost RDP houses.

Bishop Samuel Mzukisi Banzana was found guilty earlier in March, on four counts of corruption involving around R3 million. Banzana was back in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court on Monday for sentencing proceedings.

At the time of the crimes between 2004 and 2009, Banzana was the manager of the Mzingisi Development Trust, which African National Congress veteran Govan Mbeki founded. The trust built RDP houses in impoverished areas which included Soweto on Sea, Veeplaas, Westview and Bethelsdorp.

Taking the stand on Monday, in mitigation of sentence, Banzana cut a lonely figure in the dock. Despite the conviction against him Banzana still proclaimed his innocence.

Banzana said that he did piece jobs from time-to-time but really had nothing left. The Asset Forfeiture Unit had since seized his home and three luxury cars worth R2.9 million in total. A remaining loss of R378,000 has yet to be recovered. The retired bishop now resides with his in-laws.

Member of Mzingisi Development Trust, Vuyani Siziba, was also called in mitigation of sentence and testified that the community still had faith in Banzana despite the story being splashed in the newspapers.

He said that Banzana was a trustworthy man and was helpful towards community members.

"He assisted the trust during a difficult time, he popped out money from his own pocket on his own accord," he said.

But State Prosecutor Ronelle Brink questioned Siziba's knowledge on the trust because he had no dealings with it during 2007 and 2009, a time in which bribes were solicited by Banzana.

The defence asked for correctional supervision and argued that there was no reason for Bazana to be imprisoned for a long period of time.

Brink however asked for direct imprisonment and argued that Bazana was put in a position of trust which he had abused.

"The accused had considerable influence and breached trust. He knew how tenders and contracts worked and he used his expertise  against small struggling businesses. He received gratification in excess of R3 million and the crimes appear to be pre-mediated,"  Brink argued.

Magistrate Louis Claassen will pass down sentence on Tuesday.

African News agency