Ethekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Picture: THE TIMES/THULI DLAMINI
Ethekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Picture: THE TIMES/THULI DLAMINI

Police arrested eight people, including a journalist, at a protest outside the Durban city hall on Thursday, in support of corruption-accused eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede.

What started as a handful of Gumede supporters soon grew to a group of about 100 people who blockaded the city hall and stopped traffic in the city centre, “to welcome her back to work”.

Gumede, who was asked to take a 30-day leave of absence from work, was due to return to office on Thursday. However, she will not return yet, as the ANC said an investigation into allegations of fraud and corruption against her was still incomplete.

She is also out on bail after being arrested on charges of fraud and corruption relating to a R208m Durban solid waste tender awarded in 2016, in which 62 other councillors have also been implicated. 

When contacted on Thursday, Gumede said said she did not want to comment on the situation at the city hall.

Gumede is a staunch ally of former President Jacob Zuma, who tweeted after her arrest that he would back her through thick and thin, and insinuated that she was a victim of a political conspiracy.

Provincial police spokesperson Col Thembeka Mbele said on Thursday that seven people had been charged with public violence, while a journalist had been charged with assault.

Mbele said the journalist, identified as Sihle Mavuso of Independent Media, allegedly assaulted a police officer who was trying to move him away from a specific area. 

“One of the police officer's jackets was torn after he was attacked by that journalist.”

Mbele said police would monitor the situation closely for the rest of the day.

The SA National Editors' Forum has condemned the arrest of Mavuso, calling for an investigation and charges against him to be dropped.

Independent's online news site, IOL, reported that Mavuso was released after two hours. Independent Media condemned the attack on its journalist. 

DA eThekwini chief whip Thabani Mthethwa said an economic development and planning committee meeting was cancelled and staff were sent home because of the “volatile situation”.

“The community services committee was also scheduled to sit today, and will likely also be cancelled.

“It's unclear why this kind of behaviour is not handled criminally and those who block roads and access ways for ordinary people are not arrested and charged,” Mthethwa said.

“It's simply unacceptable that the city's administrative and political home is completely disabled and this thuggish behaviour is repeatedly allowed.

“If Gumede's supporters want to picket in support of a corrupt and incapable mayor, they must do so peacefully and not block other people and vehicles.” 

He accused the ANC of being indecisive about Gumede's future.

“This indecision clearly shows that the ANC isn't serious about ridding public office of their corrupt deployees.”

ANC provincial secretary-general Mdumiseni Ntuli said the party had called on police act “against those disrupting work at city hall and in the city in the cover of ANC colours”.

“We, as the ANC, have not sanctioned any protest and will take action against those involved.”