On 26 June 2019 the eThekwini municipal manager, Sipho Nzuza, has turned State witness and is set to spill the beans in the corruption case against suspended mayor Zandile Gumede and her co-accused. A number of independent, well-placed sources have confirmed that Nzuza, who assumed the top job in 2017, has beefed up security around him and his family after he turned Section 204 witness. This implies he has agreed to testify against the accused in return for possible indemnity against any future prosecution.
Gumede, senior ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu and supplier Craig Ponnan were arrested in May in connection with a R208 million tender within the Durban Solid Waste (DSW) department which saw nine people arrested, including DSW deputy head Robert Abbu and the city’s supply chain manager Sandile Ngcobo.
They are facing charges of fraud, corruption, and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act, the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, and Contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources said Nzuza was “majorly implicated” in the case as he signed off on the alleged dodgy tender deals.
One source said that Nzuza is claiming he was pressured into signing off millions of rand in tenders to contractors .
“Since it’s his signature on the documents and he is the accounting officer, no one else is directly implicated but him.
“But I believe that he is now saying that he was forced into signing off on those deals,” the source said.
“When the heat turned on, the city manager jumped ship and is now outing everyone,” said the source.
The Mercury can also reveal that the arrest of Gumede and Mthembu followed an internal probe after the allegations of widespread corruption surfaced. However, the investigation was abandoned after the ANC opted to allow legal processes to take their course.
“He (Nzuza) was forced to listen to the instructions and was acting under duress. The whole tender process was made to look legitimate, but in actual fact it was tainted. Tenders were put into a box and not looked at as it was already decided who will get what,” said the source.
“Security has been escalated around him to such an extent that he has no set time to arrive for work.
“It is so bad that he has been advised not to eat anything in certain places for fear that he might be poisoned,” the source said.
However, Nzuza has allegedly instructed the extra security not to escort him within the City Hall.
“I think he feels that they wouldn’t do anything to him while he’s at work. There’s too many eyes. But it’s when he’s outside of working hours and on weekends, his security is with him,” the source said.
A city councillor close to Gumede said Nzuza played such a major role in the investigation into the tender fraud case that the stringent bail conditions set by the court were allegedly “specifically designed” for his safety.
Gumede has been placed on special leave by the ANC following her arrest, to give the party space to make a decision on her political future.
Her 30-day suspension has allegedly sparked a “subtle rebellion” of council activities by councillors close to the ANC’s former eThekwini regional chairperson.
“This coming Thursday there is a full council meeting but 45 councillors linked to Gumede have applied for leave of absence,” said the source.
Speaking to The Mercury, Nzuza did not confirm or deny that he was a State witness. He merely declined to comment on the allegations.
“This is a matter that is under investigation. I cannot answer any questions regarding that,” he said.
Hawks spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, declined to comment when asked if Nzuza was a State witness.
“I cannot give out witness information whatever the case might be,” he said.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse provincial manager, Tim Tyrell, said it would be following the case closely.
He said Outa welcomed the courage demonstrated by any official who was prepared to speak the truth.
Nicole Graham of the DA said the party did not hold the city manager accountable for some of the allegations of corruption.
“If you read the court papers, it is clear that he was not involved, it was the alleged collusion between the companies, the councillors and the mayor behind his back,” said Graham.
IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said something was wrong with the case and it looked politically tainted.
“We are not an executive mayor where the mayor will sign everything, the officials are the ones who are supposed to be arrested.”
“The city manager must answer, he is the one accountable for everything, why he is not second (accused) on this matter. There is something wrong with this,” he said.
When contacted for comment, Gumede referred The Mercury to her spokesperson Mthunzi Gumede whose phone went to voicemail.
Municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela also refused to comment on the matter.