State turns Zandile Gumede associates against her, making them witnesses after adding extra charges
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Durban - The amended indictment of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and her 21 co-accused has revealed that the State will also call her close associates to testify against her.
Gumede and her co-accused, who include suspended eThekwini city manager Sipho Nzuza, former supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo, Robert Abbu (a former eThekwini municipality senior employee) and senior ANC councillor in the eThekwini Municipality, Mondli Mthembu, are accused of corruption, money laundering and fraud.
The new indictment which the State made public on Monday when Gumede and the others appeared before Judge Achmat Jappie of the Durban High Court came with a surprise charge of racketeering.
Racketeering is when individuals conduct illegal businesses using legitimately registered business but still conceal movements of money and its sources. In the case of Gumede and others, the State alleges that companies like Ilanga LamaHlase, owned by Mzwandile Dludla; Uzuzinikele Trading 31 CC, owned by Zithulele Mkhize; and ElShadai, owned by Prabaragan Priah, were part of the racketeering enterprise.
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The racketeering enterprise allegedly feasted on a R320 million waste tender issued by the eThekwini Municipality in 2017 while Gumede was the mayor. The State alleges that Gumede and people like Nzuza abused their official positions to dish out corrupt tenders and in return got bribes.
In the amended indictment, the State revealed that it has so far lined up 55 witnesses to testify against Gumede and her co-accused.
Among those the State has listed as witnesses is Philip Sithole, a senior manager in the municipality. Sithole was perceived to be a trusted "ANC lieutenant" of Gumede and when he was moved from heading Durban Tourism to the City hall, the move was slammed by opposition parties as an attempt by Gumede to fully take charge of the city’s affairs.
Another witness the State has listed is Raymond Rampersad, the senior eThekwini municipality manager who was sidelined when the waste tender was issued and his duties were illegally performed by Robert Abbu, whose appointment was sanction by Nzuza. The State alleges Abbu was appointed to carry out illegal instructions.
Other witnesses were not listed and the State said the law allows this.
“In terms of section 144 (3) (a) (II) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 certain names of witnesses have been withheld,” the State said at the end of the 397-page indictment.
State prosecutor Ashika Lucken said there have been amendments (the new racketeering charges) made on the indictment served on the suspects. The other reasons for the delay, as Lucken outlined to JudgeJappie, was that some of the accused have changed their legal teams, while other defence lawyers have requested some information from the State in order to prepare their clients’ defence.
Speaking to the media outside court on Monday, Gumede said she would wait for the court to hear the matter and she was certain she would be acquitted.
“The truth will come out at the high court where we are right now, I will patiently wait because I have confidence that the law will be applied in a just manner. The delay is caused by the fact that on Wednesday (last week) they brought a new indictment. We are saying to them (the State), if you are ready for the trial, bring all the evidence now, but then we will wait,” she said.
She added that she knows the motive behind the charges and “I don’t care”, after she was asked about the impact of the case on her political career, as the ANC has since asked her to step aside.
“I am strong and these things do happen, I am a politician, I am not a sellout,” she said, implying that the charges are politically motivated.
The postponement has left Gumede’s backers, who came to support her outside in their numbers, fuming. Their spokesperson, Ntando Khuzwayo, said he was not surprised that the matter has been pushed back once more. He said the case was politically motivated.
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"This case is about ensuring that she doesn't take part in the elective conference of ANC eThekwini … we know that. The conduct of the State just proves that," Khuzwayo said.
The case was postponed to November 30 to give time for defence lawyers to work on the new indictment and request further particulars from the State and prepare their strongest case.
The judge also set July 18 next year as the possible date for the matter to reach a stage when the court can hear evidence.