DURBAN – Despite facing damming fraud and corruption charges, eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede said she was staying put in her position as the mayor of KwaZulu-Natal’s only metro and as chairperson of the biggest region of the ANC in the country.
Speaking to Independent Media shortly after she was granted R50000 bail and told to surrender her passport and not to interfere with witnesses, Gumede said she would continue as mayor as “these are mere allegations”.
Gumede, municipal councillor and infrastructure portfolio committee chairperson Mondli Mthembu and businessman Craig Ponnan appeared in the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes Court yesterday on charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act.
She stands accused of “playing a major role” in a dodgy R208 million refuse removal contract.
“Right now I am the mayor, and I will continue to be the mayor, as these are mere allegations and investigators are saying they are not done with their investigations. They (ANC) cannot listen to one side and then take a decision. Instead, they must listen to all sides before taking a decision about my position,” she said when asked whether she would resign if the ANC instructed her to, given the latest developments.
Gumede said she respected the rule of law as she had presented herself to the police when asked to do so, and would subject herself to court processes.
“It’s very difficult to say what the ANC will say regarding my arrest. However, what I can say is that I’m innocent until proven guilty, and let the law take its course because I have full respect for our courts,” Gumede said.
Her response comes as the ANC eThekwini regional executive committee said it would urgently meet before the end of the week and listen to her side of the story before taking a decision on her political future.
Regional secretary Bheki Ntuli said for now Gumede remained the city’s mayor.
“We’ve not had enough time to look at the charge sheet and know what it’s all about. We’ll have to give her a chance to present her side at a special meeting. As things stand, she is still the mayor of the city,” Ntuli said.
The eThekwini Municipality issued a statement yesterday to allay fears that the arrests of the mayor and other senior city officials would lead to paralysis in the municipality. City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the municipality would co-operate fully with the legal process and assured residents that the arrests and court case would have no impact on service delivery.
He said it was “business as usual” in the municipality as the day-to-day operations would be handled by city manager Sipho Nzuza and other senior officials.
“We also still have our deputy mayor, so it doesn’t mean that everything will come to a standstill. The municipality abides by the legal principle of innocent until proven otherwise. There is no reason for residents to panic,” he said.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) said it was deeply concerned about the damning criminal charges levelled against Gumede and called on her to step down from her position.
Outa’s provincial manager for KZN, Tim Tyrrell, said the matter needed to be dealt with swiftly, and being the most senior public office-bearer in the city, Gumede should step down.
“The leadership of the city should be above reproach. While a person is innocent until proven guilty, it is still deeply concerning that the city’s first citizen is accused of being involved in such acts of criminality. Unless the mayor is able to clear her name, she should step down and put the city’s needs first, allowing her time to fight this matter in court.”
The bail conditions do not allow Gumede to communicate with officials linked to the DSW audit, supply chain management, legal or financial employees or staff involved in operations in the administration.
“The bail conditions are also extremely restrictive on the mayor. It would be difficult to see just how she would be able to execute her duties of providing political oversight in line with the Municipal Finance Management Act, which is the same act she is accused of breaching,” said Tyrrell.
The Durban-based civic organisation Active Citizens Movement called for Gumede’s suspension with immediate effect.
“The promise of a new dawn needs to be reflected in the ANC responding appropriately to these serious charges and that can only mean her suspension from her mayoral position,” said Nash Singh from ACM.