Johannesburg – The fraud and corruption trial of Buffalo City former municipal officials and ANC leaders, as well as business owners and their entities – which emanates from the funeral memorial events of the world’s renown icon Nelson Mandela – is set for a rocky start at the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho, East London.
The accused face money- laundering and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) charges.
They include the ANC regional chairperson of WB Rubusana region (Buffalo City metro) Phumlani Mkolo, former Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, former Buffalo City mayor Zukiswa Ncita, her former deputy Temba Tinta, former council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele, a few members of the administration staff, and three business owners and their entities.
They were charged in 2014 after the Hawks investigated allegations that they were involved in a scheme to defraud the municipality of R10-million and contravened MFMA under false pretenses that the funds were intended for events related to memorial activities around the metro following Mandela’s death in December 2013.
The scheme was uncovered during an attempt to pay out R4-million after having already pocketed R6-million.
The money was paid into the bank account of businessman Mzwandile Sonkwali, whose transport business was fraudulently registered in the Buffalo City metro’s supply chain.
He then made several payments to the bank accounts of the other accused, allegedly on Mkolo’s instructions.
Sonkwali has since pleaded guilty and entered into a plea bargain agreement with the state and is among key state witnesses on this matter.
The case has been back and forth in court since it was first enrolled in 2014.
The case was provisionally withdrawn in May 2019 before it was re-enrolled in February last year.
During the pre-trial proceedings held during the week, it emerged that Mkolo, his partner Nosiphiwo Mati and her business entity Mpidos Emergence and Training CC were not ready to plead because they have not had a consultation with their legal counsel because he’s currently undergoing a medical procedure.
But Judge Igna Stretch instructed their attorney, Nyameko Diniso, to make alternative plans and ensure his clients plead when they appear in court on Wednesday.
It has also emerged that Buffalo City metro has been paying the legal bills of Ncita, Simon-Ndzele, Gomba, and Tembelani Prideaux Sali, who was the municipality’s supply chain manager at the time of his arrest.
This was revealed by their legal representatives, who told the pre-trial conference that they are preparing to pursue a review application of the metro’s decision to terminate funding for their clients’ criminal trial as its former employees.
Judge Stretch emphasized that their proposed civil litigation with the metro would not be permitted to delay the trial.
Prosecutor advocate Ulrike De Klerk said the accused had three months to make alternative arrangements after Buffalo City informed them of its decision to stop paying their fees.
However, the legal counsel for Simon-Ndzele, Gomba, and Sali said three firms of attorneys representing the accused are set to withdraw when the matter goes before the court on Wednesday.
Lawyers that are representing accused numbers 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 14 all indicated that they were ready to proceed with the trial.
However, it is expected that accused number 10 and 11, businessman Dean Fanoe and his company Mantella Trading 522 CC will request to be tried separately and that the application will be heard immediately after plea proceedings have been finalized.