Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Picture: Bongani Mbatha/African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - Zandile Gumede, the graft accused former eThekwini mayor returns to the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on Wednesday and will have solid support within the ANC even though she has lost her mayoral seat.

However, Gumede returns to the court uncertain of what will happen to the case which was postponed in August last year to allow the Hawks to conclude its investigation.

Gumede, who is out on R50000 bail, told Independent Media yesterday that when she spoke to her legal team, they told her that they would get to know about the National Prosecution Authority’s (NPA) next move when they get to court.

“When I spoke to my lawyers this morning (Tuesday), they told me that they have no clue of how the case will proceed because the prosecution team refused to tell them what is their next move. We will go to court and know from there what their next move is. For now, we are in the dark,” Gumede said.

She was arrested in May last year. The State accuses her and her co-accused of illegally benefiting from a R208 million waste tender that was issued by the eThekwini Municipality in 2017 while she was the mayor.

Ethekwini Municipality deputy head of strategy and new development Robert Abbu, 62; supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo, 41; Hlenga Sibisi, 43; Mzwandile Dludla, 24; Sinthamone Ponnan, 55; Sithulele Mkhize, 38; Bongani Dlomo, 53; and Prabagaram Pariah, 61; are among those charged with Gumede.

There was widespread speculation that the NPA would ask for another postponement while still racing against time to tie up loose ends.

At the last court appearance in August last year, senior State prosecutor Ashika Lucken told the court that there were 286 subpoenas and used that as a basis for asking for a postponement.

The spokesperson for the NPA in KZN, Natasha Kara, when asked whether the State was ready to proceed with the trial or whether it would request another postponement, said: “The matter is in court tomorrow (Wednesday); kindly attend the proceedings to follow what transpires.”

Any postponement on Wednesday is likely to irritate Gumede’s backers who on Monday issued a statement and claimed that the prosecution of Gumede, Mondli Mthembu (former eThekwini deputy regional secretary) and a host of other accused including councillors, was political persecution by the State. The supporters claimed that this was done to disrupt and divide the ANC eThekwini region ahead of local government elections.

The same supporters had arranged a series of support initiatives on behalf of Gumede. They started with a prayer service at Inanda and on Tuesday night they staged a night vigil. 

On Wednesday they are expecting Gumede to address them after appearing in court. Political analyst Xolani Dube said he expected Gumede’s supporters to swarm the court in numbers as she was still a powerful political figure in the region. He said notwithstanding the fact that Gumede was no longer the mayor, her backers still saw her as a tool that can be used to bargain for positions when the three factions meet to negotiate a unity slate ahead of the eThekwini regional conference.

“Gumede is now on the ground and that’s why she has become so influential.

“By being a task team member she is in a position to decide who is going to be the next chairperson, who is going to be the next REC (regional executive committee) member. So she is more powerful than before,” Dube said.

Ethekwini spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the city was aware of the night vigil. “We ask that the city be informed of such vigils as we’d have to ensure that traffic is not disrupted or residents inconvenienced by the gathering. We also need to ensure no events are affected.”

* Additional reporting by Thami Magubane

Political Bureau