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Delays and Disarray: Judge Urges State to Get Its Act Together in Gumede Corruption Trial

Published February 28, 2024
4 months ago

The saga of the Durban Solid Waste (DSW) contract corruption trial drags on as former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and 21 co-accused return to court for allegedly manipulating a R320 million contract award process fraught with irregularities. In a clear sign of exasperation, presiding Judge Sharmaine Balton has directed pointed criticism at the state's prosecution team for their continual unpreparedness, having failed to present critical "chain of evidence" documents for the 19th time.

Advocate Graham Kerr-Phillips, representing three defendants, highlighted the chronic issue to Judge Balton, who expressed that the procedural hiccups could no longer be tolerated. The state's inability to furnish the required documents has led to repeated adjournments, disrupting the trial process.

Compounding the issue, the court faced problematic testimony that bordered on being 'double hearsay.' The state's witness, a senior official, revealed deficiencies when it became apparent that their superior, rather than the witness themselves, had been instrumental in collating vital disclosable information. The defence was quick to argue against the admittance of such second-hand evidence.

Balton urged the state to sharpen its case preparation and to anticipate and nullify potential objections from the defence by ensuring the correct witnesses present admissible documents. In an effort to expedite proceedings, she stipulated the necessity of the investigating officer obtaining statements from the direct source.

The judge also acknowledged the possibility of enforcing an unprecedented measure should these issues persist, which could involve ordering costs or even personal punitive actions against the prosecutors — a move reflecting the gravity of the state's lack of organization and its impact on the trial.

Gumede, the central figure of the case, dubbed the 'kingpin,' along with ANC councillors and senior officials, is accused of manipulating the waste removal contract to favor the promotion of radical economic transformation (RET). Allegations include dispensing kickbacks to a network of beneficiaries within RET-aligned community contractors, business forums, and military veterans’ associations.

The implications of the prosecution's inefficacy resonate beyond the courtrooms as the matter has been programmed for another four weeks this session, with subsequent adjournments to May and later dates within the year. Such prolongation has not only hampered the justice process but has also provoked security concerns. Following an incident where a municipal employee and future witness was intimidated through gun violence, the court barred the media from naming such witnesses.

Media attorneys, while not opposing the ban, have contested its extent, considering that it precludes reporters from bringing cellphones or any electronic devices into court. Judge Balton’s ruling on this aspect remains pending.

With the trial scheduled to continue, the overarching concern remains the competency with which the state handles the forthcoming sessions. Failing to do so not only puts the integrity of the case at stake but could set a judicial precedent that may impact the handling of future high-profile corruption cases in South Africa.

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