Councillors barred as ANC moves against corruption

Corruption-accused eThekwini municipal manager Sipho Nzuza made a dramatic return to work this week, but the councillors charged with him were barred from attending a full council meeting as the governing party continued to move against leaders facing criminal charges.

On Wednesday, ANC councillor Zoe Shabalala was prevented from attending the council meeting by the party’s eThekwini caucus leadership, together with two other councillors who are facing corruption charges.

Shabalala  who was also treasurer of the ANC’s eThekwini region, which has been dissolved by the party leadership, is part of the group of council officials, councillors and contractors arrested over an allegedly corrupt R400-million waste-disposal tender. Foremost among those arrested are former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and Mondli Mthembu, the deputy chair of the region and former chair of the city’s human settlements committee.

Shabalala, Mthembu and councillor Sthenjwa Nyawose were all instructed not to attend the meeting, in line with a decision by the ANC in the province and the party’s national executive committee (NEC) that they should “step aside”’ pending the conclusion of their matters.

ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela confirmed that the decision was being implemented across the province’s 11 ANC regions, with 12 councillors affected by the ruling.

“There is a decision that has been taken that none of them will attend any council meetings pending the outcome of their appearance before the integrity commission,” he said.

Thus far, only deputy chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu, who is out on bail over corruption charges, had appeared before the integrity commission in the province.

Gumede had been scheduled to appear last week, but postponed her appearance at the last minute. “I’m not sure what happened. At the last minute she asked to consult her lawyers and her appearance was postponed. I don’t know what informed that decision,” Ntombela said.

Gumede’s supporters said in a briefing note circulated among branches in eThekwini that the sanction against Shabalala and Mthembu had been implemented “without a process and national guidelines on how to implement the NEC decision. 

“The NEC must not allow its resolution to infringe on individual rights, which are enshrined in the constitution,” the note said. They said the resolution should be applied as per the party’s constitution and “not in a federal manner, where provinces and regions do as they please”.

According to the note, two other key figures in the Gumede camp, businessperson Musa Nciki and deputy regional secretary Nkosenhle Madlala were about to be arrested over the waste-disposal case. The note claims that this is in a bid to stop them from standing for election at the regional conference, which is set to be held early next year.

“The plan is to charge comrades and later acquit them after the conference. Legal action will be taken to prevent this abuse of state apparatus for narrow political ends. Should [the] courts and [the] Constitutional Court fail to give relief, another course of action will be taken. What cannot be won in the courtroom will be won on the streets,” the note said.

A fightback at the national level by supporters of the ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who has been affected by the NEC decision, is likely to be cranked up, particularly in light of the recent wave of arrests of party leaders linked to corruption.

One of Gumede’s lobbyists said this week that they anticipated a challenge to the decisions to use the integrity commission to cleanse its ranks at the party’s NEC and possibly in court.

The challenge was most likely to be headed by Supra Mahumapelo, who overturned his removal from office in the high court in early 2018, or regional leaders in the North West, which is currently being run by interim provincial and regional ANC committees that still support the former ANC chairperson and premier, the lobbyist said.

“We argue that there is no need for the integrity committee in this. That process is going to be challenged soon by Bongani Bongo on the NEC. People can be processed by the disciplinary committee. Supra will [also] challenge it,” he said.

Last week, one NEC member told the Mail & Guardian that all members have constitutional rights and should be allowed to challenge the new directives. “If I was told to step down I would take it to court. This thing is done to target others and leave others. I have a constitutional right,” said the member.

In Gauteng, the ANC is yet to announce its decision on what action to take against health MEC Bandile Masuku and former presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko over the R125-million tender for personal protective equipment given to her husband Thandisizwe Diko’s company.

This despite the announcement this week that the head of the health department, Professor Mkhululi Lukhele, was placed on precautionary suspension over the deal. The ANC leadership had rejected an integrity commission recommendation to fire the two, requesting a time to allow the Special Investigating Unit to complete its work.

In the North West, the recall of the mayor, deputy mayor and speaker of five municipalities by the ANC has seen the majority of those removed from office refuse to stand down. The party had intended to act against another six troikas in coming weeks and to go ahead with a cabinet reshuffle, but this had not materialised by the time of writing. 

Instead, several legal challenges and appeals had been submitted by the deposed mayors, while supporters of Mahumapelo are preparing to take the decisions of the provincial interim committee to court.

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