Durban – The Democratic Alliance (DA) walked out of an eThekwini Municipality committee meeting on Tuesday after a senior African National Congress (ANC) councillor implicated in alleged multi-million rand tender fraud chose not to step aside and let someone else chair the meeting.
Senior ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu, who chairs the eThekwini Human Settlements and Infrastructure Committee, appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court in May alongside city mayor Zandile Gumede, and a businessman, for alleged fraud and corruption involving a R208 million Durban Solid Waste (DSW) tender.
The trio was released on R50 000 bail each and will appear again in August, alongside nine other accused who were arrested two weeks before them.
One of the reports being presented at the committee meeting on Tuesday was DSW’s performance and monitoring report for March 2019.
At the start of the meeting, Mthembu granted the DA caucus time to discuss his involvement in the committee meeting, given the charges he is facing.
ANC councillor Ayanda Ndlovu said the issue could not be raised at the meeting as the case was sub judice. “What is on the agenda has nothing to do with the case,” said Ndlovu.
Addressing Mthembu, DA whip Zamani Khuzwayo said: “You might find your bail conditions might not allow you to be in this meeting. We don’t want to be part of a process where we find ourselves in breach of the bail conditions. How can you interrogate DSW when you are not allowed to?”
The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mdu Nkosi said someone else should be chosen to chair.
But Mthembu said he would not have chaired the meeting had he been in breach of his bail conditions. “However, I want to do the honourable thing. Should [councillor] Nkosi want me to recuse myself, I can do that. I am not married to the position [of chairperson],” said Mthembu.
The ANC requested and was granted a caucus, following which ANC councillor Ntando Khuzwayo said there was no need for Mthembu to step aside as he had already been part of an executive committee meeting and full council meeting last week.
"The chair sat in a meeting last week, as did the mayor. This is not a court. This is a committee meeting," said Khuzwayo.
An official from the city’s legal department, when called on by Mthembu to give an opinion, said while he had not seen the bail conditions, it was his interpretation that the onus was on the accused to keep within the conditions.
“It is your prerogative to make a decision,” said the official.
Mthembu replied: “Let’s proceed with the meeting,” at which stage the DA left.
Mthembu, mayor Gumede and the other accused are facing schedule five offences that include contravention of the municipal finance management act, contravention of the prevention and combatting of corrupt activities act, contravention of the organised crime act and, for Gumede, contravention of the riotous assemblies act.
According to the charge sheet, Gumede and Mthembu played “a major role” in manipulating the DSW tender so that it could go to preferred service providers, although no work was done on the contract.
Both are also accused of “political interference” in the initial internal probe into the allegations.
Gumede’s role in the city will come under discussion at an ANC provincial working committee meeting being held at the party’s Durban headquarters on Tuesday night.