Harry Gwala District Mayor Mluleki Ndobe appeared stoic and calm next to his co-accused as they appeared in the Umzimkhulu Magistrate's Court for the 2017 murder of former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary Sindiso Magaqa.
Ndobe, 44, Sbonelo Myeza, 39, Mbulelo Mbofana, 34, and Zweliphansi Skhosana, 48, appeared on Tuesday afternoon amid heightened security in the small-town court.
A large gathering of people outside the court saw various stakeholders, including political parties, coming out in support of Ndobe. Others, including the DA and EFF, condemned the mayor.
The accused each face one count of murder and two of attempted murder.
Ndobe, who is third on the ANC's provincial list, wore a blue suit jacket and shirt.
He did not plead and the matter was postponed to March 25 and 26 for formal bail applications.
A large contingent of heavily-armed police officials, who were supervising his movements at the packed courthouse, whisked him away.
Magaqa died in hospital in September 2017, around two months after he was shot in Umzimkhulu.
Umzimkhulu councillors, Nonsikelelo Mafa and Jabu Mzizi-Msiya, sustained gunshot wounds on the day of Magaqa's ambush.
Outside court, ANC KZN spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said that the party would not immediately recall Ndobe as mayor.
She said that the provincial leadership did not have a clear mandate on accused members.
Simelane-Zulu added that the constitution of the ANC only called for the removal of a member who was convicted of a crime.
"We do not have protocol in province on how to deal with such matters because we have not been faced with a situation before where one of our leading deployees and senior leaders [is] charged with such a matter."
She said the ANC in the province would have to sit down and discuss the matter.
Simelane-Zulu added that the party was shocked when it heard of Ndobe's arrest.
"One cannot hide the fact that it is embarrassing for the organisation. We do want to indicate as the PEC (provincial executive committee), we stand with victims in whatever case there is."
However, she added: "The fact that there is an allegation levelled against someone, doesn't mean they are guilty of a crime. The people brought before court today are given an opportunity to clear their name."
Simelane-Zulu said the party welcomed progress in the Magaqa murder investigation.
"We are happy that processes are happening. This is a matter that could affect the stability of the province."