Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede’s trial has hit another snag as some of her co-accused in the R320-million tender fraud and corruption case have said they have run out of money for legal services.
The accused appeared for their first day of trial at the Durban high court on Monday.
Gumede and 21 others are facing a raft of 2 793 charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
The charges relate to an irregular 2017 Durban Solid Waste collection tender that cost over R320 million.
Three years after the arrests of high profile eThekwini Municipality officials were effected, the trial was finally set to begin in earnest on Monday.
However, there was a 30-minute delay when the lawyer representing Cynthia Nzuza, the wife of former eThekwini manager Sipho Nzuza — who is also an accused in the matter, had not arrived in court.
When Nzuza’s lawyer finally arrived, she told the court that she was briefed at 10.30 am about the case as the original representative was not available. The lawyer said the original representative in the case had not received payment from Nzuza.
Two lawyers representing Sandile Ngcobo, former chairperson of eThekwini’s bid adjunction committee, and Zithulele Mkhize, director of an implicated service provider, also stated they had not been paid.
Ngcobo’s lawyer said he had made a separate court application for the Asset Forfeiture Unit to release some of his assets they have seized. The releasing of his assets would allow Ngcobo to generate counsel money needed for the duration of the trial.
A decision on the application is expected soon, said Ngcobo’s lawyer.
Willie Lombard, representing Mkhize, told the court that his client was booked off sick with influenza.
Lombard said he also had not been paid by Mkhize to represent him for the duration of the trial.
I find myself in a difficult situation. I have not done the requisite counselling and examination of documents relating to the case.
Presiding officer in the case, Judge Charmaine Bolton, asked if the trio would qualify for legal aid.
The lawyers said they do not meet the criteria as they were employed and earning above the required maximum income of R3 500 a month.
All the other defence lawyers and the state prosecutors indicated they were ready to proceed with the trial.
Advocate Jay Naidoo, representing Gumede and five others in the case, said he would be opposing the racketeering charges against his clients.
According to the indictment, Gumede and the accused worked in common purpose to defraud the municipality.
During Gumede’s time as eThekwini mayor, the state alleges that she, along with other municipal officials, masterminded a waste collection tender in Umlazi that would be awarded to handpicked service providers.
Court documents show that she allegedly received R2,8 million in kickbacks from the service providers.
Gumede came into the case as a newly-elected ANC eThekwini chairperson.
Judge Bolton adjourned the case to July 27 to sort out the lawyer issues and get clarity on who will be represented by whom.
The start of the trial was postponed to August 1. The trial is expected to take a long time, with over 55 state witnesses expected to testify and a key voluminous forensic report that will be cross-examined by all defence lawyers.