South Africa: Zandile Gumede's Appointment Disregards the Public Interest

In the face of popular outrage, the ANC says its 'woman-empowering decision' to deploy the former eThekwini mayor facing charges of corruption is to maintain stability ahead of local elections in 2021.

The redeployment of former Durban mayor Zandile Gumede to the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature has caused uproar among her critics.

Gumede has continued serving on the eThekwini Council since the ANC replaced her and her entire executive committee in 2019. She was arrested in May last year on charges of corruption and the governing party removed her as city mayor in August.

Gumede is currently out on bail of R50 000 for her alleged role in the R208 million Durban Solid Waste tender scandal that involved other councillors, officials and service providers.

The Coalition of the Poor - made up of shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Right2Know Campaign, the Market Users Committee, Ubunye bamaHostela (Hostels United), the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, the Poor Flat Dwellers Association, the Active Citizens Movement, the African Solidarity Network and the Congolese Solidarity Campaign - expressed grave concern at her placement in provincial government.

Gumede remained as a proportional representative councillor after her dismissal as eThekwini mayor. In a recent interview with news broadcaster eNCA, in which she defended her deployment, Gumede said she was acting in service of the "poor".

But Ben Madokwe from the Active Citizens Movement said the decision to place Gumede as a public representative in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature exposes the "weakened political leadership responsible for the destruction of public confidence in the municipality". He said the Electoral Act 2020, which allows individuals to stand as independent candidates for election in provincial and national legislatures, as ruled by the Constitutional Court in June 2020, will compel and ensure accountability in South Africa's governance system.

'Tainted reputation'

"We have lost faith in our government. What about ethical considerations? We're witnessing complete disregard of the public and its interest. Essentially, the reality that the ANC does not want to admit is that Gumede now has a tainted reputation," said Madokwe.

"The public does not trust her and clearing her name in court should be her priority. What was wrong with her previous position as a councillor? Why Zandile Gumede? This means no other candidate was suitable to hold the post in the legislature. It seems the ANC is blatantly undermining South Africans.

"Undeniably, under Gumede's tenure, the eThekwini municipality experienced excessive corruption and financial misconduct. As a result, a peak in protest and social revolt manifested. Clear abuse of power and state funds happened under her governance. We cannot wait for the electoral system as it may finally allow citizens to choose who goes to Parliament and hold the public representatives accountable.

We want younger, qualified and honest leaders to represent the poor in Parliament," explained Madokwe.

Nhlakanipho Mndiyata, a resident from the Lindelani shack settlement in KwaMashu, says the announcement of Gumede's new position brought back harsh memories of evictions. "Zandile Gumede came to our community, campaigning and promising us improved living conditions. She presented herself as a woman of grace and empathy. We all saw a mother in which we could relate and trust. She said she was for us and would look after us. As soon as she became mayor, she cast shack dwellers aside and instigated attacks upon shack dwellers in eThekwini.

"During her term as mayor, she managed to create a permanent divide between eThekwini and the shack dwellers, and anyone who supported us. The decision taken by the ANC is a betrayal to us as people who have felt her wrath personally. We know she has no interest in improving the lives of the poor, otherwise she would have kept her promises. We're still without adequate ablution, a road or decent housing for more than 30 years. Our parents have grown old living in inhumane spaces.

"We're completely puzzled by her new position. She still faces serious charges, yet she is promoted to a higher position. Is it to serve her party or the people? If it is people, we want to know which people she is representing," said Mndiyata.

Lindokuhle Mnguni, a resident of the eKhenana land occupation in Cato Manor, said that "We see this decision as a clear insult. It further illustrates the intense corruption within the municipality. The ANC needs to be reminded that 'innocent until proven guilty' is an unaffordable, exclusive privilege that only applies fairly to the rich and wealthy, not us, the poor majority.

"Shack dwellers are made up of people living below the poverty line, and yet we are being attacked and deemed hooligans by the same politicians who promise us improved living conditions and better opportunity. We believe every word they say when they want our votes, we are convinced and we believe that they will liberate us from this inherited poverty, while it's simply trickery and manipulation disguised as politics. Zandile Gumede had the opportunity to change people's lives, yet she decided to cast the poor away during her tenure.

"The corruption charges pinned to her name along with other prominent eThekwini officials is a serious crime that requires judicious scrutiny, how will she be able to fulfil her new duties while a cloud of hefty crimes looms over her? Poor people, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, are being constantly let down by the ruling party and they continue to dig their grave by making such decisions," said Mnguni.

Not serious about liberation

Abahlali baseMjondolo also criticised the ANC's decision, saying "eThekwini deserves a better leader".

"The ANC is not serious about liberating the poor people or the fight against the corruption rooted within its current administration. Zandile Gumede enriched herself out of resources meant to benefit the poor. During her time in office, service delivery was compromised, further degrading the lives of the vulnerable and poor citizens. This decision by the ANC is a slap in the face.

"Additionally, under her governance as mayor of eThekwini, Gumede deployed armed units to attack and illegally evict shack dwellers. She does not represent nor understand the poor man's struggle, yet she is now rewarded. In the end, corruption wins, and the poor once again grovel.

"The ANC's spokesperson acclaimed Gumede's appointment as a woman-empowering decision, clearly indicating that they do not fully comprehend what women empowerment means. The allegations pinned to her are of serious nature and need to be handled as such. The damage done under her leadership is disgraceful," said general secretary Nomsa Sizani.

'Still an ignored group'

Ubunye bamaHostela spokesperson Mvuzo Ntombela said Gumede's redeployment amplifies the dysfunctionality within the ruling party.

"We realise Zandile Gumede was perhaps the face of the pending corruption and fraud cases, she was in fact the leader at that time. We need to remember, though, that she was merely the face behind an anti-poor agenda. Hostel dwellers lived in inhumane conditions during Gumede's tenure, and a year after she has been removed, we are still an ignored group.

"There is an entire organisation behind Zandile Gumede. The ANC needs to work harder in addressing corruption through harsh policies against corruption as a crime against humanity. In the end, poor people's lives remain in disparity even after Gumede's term."

Market Users Committee secretary Verushka Memdutt said the message from the grassroot movements calls for a redress in the morality and ethics within the municipality. "Eventually, we have to envision governance clean from corruption. The former eThekwini mayor showed poor performance. Despite our efforts, Gumede failed to listen or acknowledge informal traders who relied on her for support and assistance. She has never represented the poor and all else is a façade."

Local election move

ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela said Gumede's redeployment is to ensure stability in preparation for the 2021 local elections.

"The ANC took this decision in an effort of stabilising the eThekwini Municipality ... in an effort of giving the municipality the opportunity to restore the authority of the ANC and its credibility, and to ensure that service delivery is effectively dealt with, without having any issues hanging over the municipality," he said.

"The ANC has a responsibility to do its utmost possible to assist metro to ensure that its functionality is not hampered by any internal issue within the ANC."

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