By BONGANI FUZILE, RAY HARTLE and MPHUMZI ZUZILE
THE ruling ANC was reeling in embarrassment last night after its top echelon in Buffalo City Metro (BCM) was arrested and charged with money laundering and fraud.
Those arrested yesterday include BCM’s executive mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, deputy mayor Temba Tinta, council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele, the ANC’s regional secretary, Pumlani Mkolo, and a senior councillor, Sindiswa Gomba.
The allegations they face relate to money meant for Nelson Mandela memorial services illegally being paid for other purposes.
Some R5.9-million was allegedly paid by BCM to local taxi boss Mzwandile Sokwali’s company Victory Ticket cc to ferry mourners to memorial services around the city after Mandela’s death in December.
Relatively small numbers of mourners were seen at the services owing to heavy rains at the time.
The arrests follow a two-month investigation by the police’s special investigations unit, the Hawks, and those arrested handed themselves over to the elite police unit after being instructed to do so yesterday morning.
Ncitha cut short her participation in a government lekgotla at a beachfront hotel – an important meeting ahead of the provincial state of the province address by premier Phumulo Masualle on Friday.
The five powerful politicians appeared alongside Ondela Mahlangu, the director in the office of the mayor, and local businesswoman Viwe Vazi.
Their charges were added to those of Sokwali and Blanche Boti, who have previously appeared in court in connection with the alleged fraud.
Two other people allegedly implicated in the memorial services scandal, Dean William Fanoe, owner of Mantella Trading 522 cc, and Zintle Nkuhlu did not appear in court although their names appeared on the court charge sheet.
A sum of R1380000 was given to Mantella Trading which was used to order T-shirts bearing Mandela’s face.
A further R899000 was given to Forty Wing, a company owned by Vazi. It later emerged that Mkolo’s girlfriend Nkuhlu, a Johannesburg-based lawyer, received R350000 from the funds through Lily Rose Trust which she co-owns with Sibongile Luthuli.
Late yesterday the ANC appeared to be scrambling for a coherent response to the high profile arrests.
Provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane called on the party’s members to allow the court process to unfold to its conclusion.
“We stand by our initial position that all ANC members who might have information on this matter are urged to cooperate fully with the law enforcement agencies investigating this matter and with our justice system to get to the bottom of this matter,” he said.
The case followed a Daily Dispatch investigation which revealed that funds earmarked for Mandela memorial services found their way into the bank accounts of a number of private business people.
The dramatic events started early yesterday morning when Simon-Ndzele arrived at the Hawks office at about 9am.
She was immediately followed by Mahlangu. Minutes later, Tinta arrived accompanied by two bodyguards. Gomba sneaked in unnoticed in the company of a lady friend, followed by Ncitha, Mkolo and Vazi shortly after lunch.
The Dispatch understands that all the accused, apart from Mkolo, were called by the Hawks early yesterday to hand themselves over.
When Mkolo called the Hawks, he was advised to hand himself in.
The magistrate’s courts were abuzz throughout the day with anticipation of the appearance of the political heavyweights, with confirmation they would appear at 2pm.
Shortly after the lunch break, security guards started allowing people into the public gallery of A court.
The mayor was the first to appear from the cells below with a slightly bemused expression on her face and wearing a business outfit.
Mkolo, whose name has been linked to the Mandela memorial scandal funds from the outset, wore a broad smile and chuckled as he chatted to co-accused.
The brief hearing eventually got underway after 3pm, after negotiations between prosecutors and lawyers.
Ketani was adamant he wanted bail set at R100000 for each accused, but the lawyers argued that it was excessive and tantamount to refusing bail altogether.
Acting magistrate Leon Kemp was concerned that any delays in finalising the hearing beyond the end of the business day would make bail meaningless because there would be no officials in the clerk of the court’s office to process the payments.
He eventually set bail at R10000 for each new accused, except for Vazi, whose bail was set at R5000.
Hawks spokesman Paul Ramaloko said more arrests could be expected as the investigation progressed.
Ramaloko said all those implicated in the Mandela memorial investigation would be arrested and would appear in court.
Andre Schoombee, Fanoe’s lawyer, said his client was not informed to appear in court while Nkuhlu also claimed to be in the dark about the court case.
In granting bail, Kemp said the accused should not interfere with anybody on the list of witnesses.
He also ordered that they inform the investigating officer timeously of their intention to travel abroad.
Sokwali and Boti, had their conditions relaxed so that they no longer have to report at the local police station.
The next court appearance is September 1 this year.