Durban – Die-hard supporters of criminally charged Durban Mayor Zandile Gumede braved the cold on Wednesday night and finally got their night vigil under way.
The vigil was supposed to start at 7 pm, but by 9 pm no supporters were in sight. There had been confusion about a potential venue.
By midnight though, the mayor's backers - draped in African National Congress (ANC) regalia and singing struggle songs - were marching through the city streets and eventually settled at the ANC headquarters in Durban.
Had Gumede's leave not been extended by provincial ANC leadership, she would have been expected back at work on Thursday.
One of the organisers of the vigil and previous events hosted in support of Gumede, Mzo Dube, told African News Agency (ANA) late on Wednesday night that the protesters would be gathering at Durban city hall on Thursday morning to "welcome" the mayor back as her leave had "lapsed".
He said the supporters did not recognise the extension of Gumede's leave by provincial leadership as it was contrary to the ANC constitution, and that leadership had not conveyed the extension to branches.
“There is no formal communication on the extension of the mayor’s leave. Therefore the programme continues,” Dube said.
The vigil was initially set to take place on Tuesday night but was postponed until the ANC made an announcement on the mayor’s fate.
Gumede was initially placed on 30 days’ leave by provincial leadership last month while it conducted an internal investigation into the charges she is facing.
This was after she was charged in mid-May along with senior ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu and businessman Craig Poonan for alleged tender fraud, corruption and racketeering relating to a 2016 Durban Solid Waste contract worth R208 million.
Several others were arrested two weeks before the trio’s appearance for their alleged roles in the same case. All of the accused were released on bail and will appear again in August.
It was alleged in court by the lead investigator in the case that Gumede influenced the awarding of tenders, ordered administration staff to break the law and organised a march against city manager, Sipho Nzuza, calling for his axing, because he refused to pay companies for the irregular contracts they had obtained.
An announcement to extend Gumede’s leave was made on Wednesday morning by the party’s provincial secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli, who said he believed Gumede would respect the decision and not put in an appearance at the office on Thursday.
Ntuli said Gumede's leave would continue until the internal investigation had been completed and a report was handed to provincial leaders.
African News Agency/ANA