Get your act together or you may have to pay, judge tells state in Zandile Gumede corruption trial

28 February 2024 - 10:05 By TANIA BROUGHTON
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Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede in the Durban high court.
Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede in the Durban high court.
Image: Nqubeko Mbhele

The apparent unpreparedness of the state in the racketeering trial against former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and 21 others relating to a R320m Durban Solid Waste contract again came under the spotlight on Tuesday.

Faced with another adjournment because the state had not supplied all the “chain of evidence” documents, advocate Graham Kerr-Phillips, who is representing three of the accused, told presiding judge Sharmaine Balton this was the 19th time proceedings had been halted for this reason.

Balton has warned the state several times that it needs to get its act in order.

On Monday, when a senior official testified about disclosures some of the accused had made in gift registries and disclosure of interest forms, it emerged the witness testifying was the boss of the boss who had instructed the employee to collate the information.

Without that person giving a statement and testifying, the evidence was double hearsay, defence counsel argued.

Balton said yet again, she was warning the state to properly prepare its case and to pre-empt objections by the defence counsel by ensuring the right people were testifying about documents which had been properly handed to the defence.

“So many documents hang in the balance,” Balton said.

She was assured the investigating officer was “on his way” to get a statement from the witness who collated the information.

“I have almost lectured the state on how this evidence is to be presented. They need to properly prepare. This should all be prepped ahead. This is a repetition of issues which have arisen time and time again,” Balton said on Monday.

On Tuesday there were similar issues. Documents needed to back up the official's testimony were missing and not provided to the defence.

Kerr-Philips said the judge should exercise judicial oversight on the issue to prevent further delays because the state was not properly disclosing documents and giving incomplete and copied documents or providing them late.

Balton said if this was not resolved, she would consider setting a precedent by ordering costs, possibly personal punitive costs against the prosecutors.

Gumede and her 21 co-accused are charged with racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering.

The marathon matter has been set down to run for about another four weeks this session.

After that, it will be adjourned to May and then later in the year.

The media is barred from naming witnesses who are municipal employees after an incident involving one witness, who has yet to testify, who reported a shot was fired through her bedroom window on the weekend before she was scheduled to give testimony.

While media organisations did not challenge the ban, in a formal application their lawyers said the ruling went too far because reporters were not allowed to take cellphones or electronic devices into court.

Balton has yet to rule on this application.

Gumede, as accused number one, is alleged to be the kingpin of the racketeering “enterprise” which included senior officials and ANC councillors to manipulate a R320m waste removal contract, awarding it to four companies.

It is alleged this was done to promote radical economic transformation and give kickbacks to a “patronage network” which included community-based contractors, business forums and the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association, which were aligned to the RET faction in the ANC.

The trial continues on Wednesday.


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