Three of those accused in the Nelson Mandela funeral scandal believe the case is being used to settle political scores.
The trio - former Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, former Buffalo City mayor Zukiswa Ncitha and former council speaker Luleka Simon-Ndzele - say they want their day in court to clear their names.
Following yet another postponement of their case this week, the three told City Press from the steps of the East London Magistrates' Court that they had been waiting for seven years to take the stand and put forward their side of the story, but the state was never ready to start with trial proceedings. They said the case had demonised them in society and was frustrating them personally and politically.
Gomba questioned why the case was dragging on.
"If this was a genuine case, it would have been finished within a short space of time because if they can prove that money was taken from where they say it was, [then they wouldn't] need even a year to prosecute on that. But to take seven years without even an indictment is absurd," she said.
Gomba, Ncitha, Simon-Ndzele, Phumlani Mkolo, Themba Tinta, Thembelani Sali, Ondela Vatile Mahlangu, Viwe Vazi, Zintle Nkuhlu, Nosiphiwo Mati, Dean William Fanoe and Nqaba Ludidi briefly appeared before the court on May 11.
The damage this case has done to my political career is immeasurable. Our children have suffered. Some of us have got kids now who are on drugs. Some of us have kids who have attempted suicide because of this whole thing
They are charged alongside Vazi, Mati and Fanoe's respective companies, Forty Wings Lodge, Mpidos Emergence and Training, and Mantella Trading 522 for corruption, money laundering, fraud and contravention of the Municipal Finance Management Act.
The case was provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2019, only to be reinstated again in February.
An emotional Gomba said the case had dealt their lives a huge blow: "We have suffered. We have lost our jobs. We have lost standing in society and we no longer have credibility in our communities.
"The damage this case has done to my political career is immeasurable. Our children have suffered. Some of us have got kids now who are on drugs. Some of us have kids who have attempted suicide because of this whole thing," she said.
This week, NPA national spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the accused allegedly schemed to swindle R10 million from the Buffalo City Metro during preparations for Mandela's funeral in December 2013.
"It is alleged that R5.9 million was already transferred to them before the municipal manager, Andile Fani, stopped the further payment of R4.1 million. The matter was provisionally remanded to July 28 at the East London Magistrates' Court for merit consultation, management of pretrial matters and possible determination of a trial date," Ngwema said.
I have come to the conclusion that there is a political conspiracy to this case.Sindiswa Gomba
The NPA said: "The plan was, firstly, to mislead the Buffalo City Metro council into accepting that it was expected of it to make funding available for the transportation of mourners to various venues where memorial services were to be held, and then to manipulate the situation so that funding could be used for purposes other than for what they officially were approved for."
However, Simon-Ndzele said she had not stolen a cent from the metro. She said the case had ruined her political career, including a chance to become deputy mayor.
"I was listed as number one for the deputy mayor position about two months ago, but because of this case I did not qualify to serve as a deputy mayor ... I have come to the conclusion that there is a political conspiracy to this case," she said, adding that she would not be able to stand as a councillor in the upcoming local government elections due to the dark cloud hanging over her head.
Simon-Ndzele also alleged that the governing party's political squabbles were affecting the justice system.
This week, state prosecutor Advocate Ulrike de Klerk informed Magistrate Annemarie Elliot that a new investigator had been appointed to the case and that the state was "finalising the indictment" of the accused.