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Witnesses in Zandile Gumede trial 'too scared to testify' after shots fired at home of municipal official

Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede at the Durban high court. File photo.
Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede at the Durban high court. File photo.
Image: Nqubeko Mbhele

A shot was fired through the bedroom window of a key witness in the trial of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede.

The witness — an official in the solid waste department — was set to testify in the racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering case on Monday.

But prosecutor Ashika Lucken told Durban high court judge Sharmaine Balton that after the incident at 6.30am on Saturday, while the witness and her relatives were unharmed, she needed time to “compose herself”.

As a result of the shooting, which has been reported to the police and is under investigation, the other municipal officials who were set to testify at this session — which ends in mid-August — had “inundated” the investigating officer with calls of concern about their safety.

Lucken said the police were now trying to put in place “certain measures” to allay their fears and to “calm the situation down” .

“I can’t specify what those steps will be,” she said. “But it will take time.”

She requested that the trial be adjourned until Friday. 

Advocate Jay Naidoo, for Gumede, questioned if there were not other witnesses — non-municipal employees — who could testify in the meantime. The delay, he said, was unfair on the accused who had to pay for their legal representatives whether the trial proceeded or not.

There was also a suggestion by other defence counsel that the investigating officer be called to testify about how many potential witnesses had expressed concern and what was being done about it.

With suggestions that the names of the witnesses had been given to the defence teams for trial preparation last week, advocate Jimmy Howse, for accused Sandile Ngcobo, the deputy head of supply chain management at the city, placed on record that there was no allegation by the state that any of the accused were believed to be involved in the attack on the witnesses home.

“We support the investigation,” he said.

Balton said while she wanted the matter to proceed, she had to take into account the risks to all, not just the witnesses but also the accused.

“We will take this situation seriously,” she said.

She adjourned the trial until Wednesday, when Lucken is expected to give a progress report and the way forward will be determined.

So far only four of an estimated 112 witnesses have testified.

The head of the City Integrity and Investigations Unit (CIIU), Mbuso Ngcobo, was the first witness during the first session of the trial in March this year, but his cross-examination was interrupted when he fell ill.

He has subsequently resigned from his job, citing death threats. It is not clear when the prosecution will recall him to complete his cross examination.

Gumede, as accused No 1, is alleged to be the kingpin of the racketeering “enterprise”. With her in the dock are former ANC senior councillor Mondli Mthembu, Ngcobo, Robert Abbu, city deputy head of strategic and new developments, former municipal manager Sipho Nzuza, his wife Cynthia Nzuza, and ANC councillors Mthokozisi Nojiyeza, Sduduzo Khuzwayo and Bhekokwakhe Phewa.

The other accused are the four service providers, and their representatives, who allegedly benefited from what is alleged to be an unlawful R320m city waste contract. They are Ilanga La Mahlase Pty Ltd, Uzuzinekele Trading, Omphile Thabang Projects, and El Shaddai Holdings Group CC.

The state alleges Gumede and others manipulated the award of the contract to the four companies to promote radical economic transformation and to give kickbacks to a “patronage network” which included community-based contractors, business forums and the MKVA, who were aligned to the RET faction in the ANC.

TimesLIVE


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