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Setting aside of Zululand District Municipality corruption report hailed

Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi said the judgement reaffirms his belief that the report was a political hatchet job aimed at destabilising his municipality. Photo supplied

Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi said the judgement reaffirms his belief that the report was a political hatchet job aimed at destabilising his municipality. Photo supplied

Published May 9, 2022

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Durban - Zululand District Municipality mayor Thulasizwe Buthelezi has described the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruling, which set aside a corruption report against him, as a victory for the autonomy and independence of the local government sphere.

In the judgment that was handed down on Friday, the court agreed with the mayor and the municipality and set aside the report.

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The mayor and the municipality had taken the forensic report, which was compiled by Mdledle Attorneys, for review arguing that it was not compliant with the KwaZulu-Natal Commissions Act, which provides for a public hearing of such investigations.

Buthelezi argued that it was therefore unprocedural as the investigators did not afford the affected parties an opportunity to offer their side of the story. The mayor and the municipality had also argued that the evidence before the investigators was not rationally connected to the findings of the report.

However, the judge did not deal with the latter argument and instead said he was satisfied with the applicants’ two arguments that the investigation was conducted in an unfair manner and did not comply with the KwaZulu-Natal Commissions Act.

“I am satisfied that on the first two grounds, namely failure to comply with the KZN Commission's Act and procedural unfairness, individually or cumulatively considered, the applicants succeeded in establishing that the impugned decisions are unlawful and they stand to be set aside,” read the judgment.

The court ordered Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Sipho Hlomuka to pay costs, adding that there was no reason for Mdledle to pay the costs because it did not oppose the matter.

The court also found that despite assurance by the department in a letter it wrote to the municipality notifying them about the intention to investigate, where it said that the investigators would verbally and in writing liaise with the applicants, this did not happen.

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Welcoming the report being set aside, the mayor said it was a victory for the autonomy and independence of the local government sphere. He said the judgment reaffirmed their position – that the Mdledle report was a political hatchet job aimed at destabilising and undermining the leadership of the Zululand District Municipality.

“It is clear that Hlomuka continues to abuse his position as Cogta MEC to advance the political interest of the ANC at the expense of service delivery,” said the mayor.

The IFP, which governs Zululand municipality, also said it felt vindicated by the ruling. In a statement issued by party president Velenkosini Hlabisa, he said “on several occasions to date, the IFP in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature has repeatedly complained that the ANC government in the province is selective and abuses government power in instituting Section 106”.

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The mayor said that initially the investigation was said to cost R500 000 but ended up costing R6 million, which was paid to the investigators. On top of that Cogta will have to pay the mayor’s legal team’s cost.

Cogta spokesperson Senzelwe Mzila said “the department is studying the judgment and will decide on a way forward once this process is complete”.

The report was started in 2019 and was finished in 2020. It had found there was corruption in the municipality and recommended disciplinary and criminal action against the people involved.

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Hlabisa also demanded that Premier Sihle Zikalala retract his misleading statement made during the opening of the legislature last year, where he, despite the matter still being in court, said the report must be implemented.

The premier's spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said on the face of it the judgment appeared to be open to further review therefore it would be premature if not ill-advised to comment on this decision as if its fait accompli.

He said the IFP statement was an unfortunate "propaganda clap-trap that lacks substance", adding there were findings of wrongdoing including corruption in the forensic report tabled.

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