SA EXPRESS board member Ezrom Mabyana, South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) general secretary Zenzo Mahlangu and Ekurhuleni metro chief whip Robert Mashego appeared in court on Monday on charges on theft and fraud amounting to about R8m.
The charges relate to an investigation into money that allegedly went missing from Satawu when the three were office bearers.
The three were in leg-irons on Monday when they were brought into the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Johannesburg.
National Transport Movement (NTM) deputy general secretary Liver Mngomezulu said on Monday that the matter went to the heart of a split in Satawu last year.
The NTM was born out of a rift caused by a change in Satawu’s leadership in 2011. Ephraim Mphahlele was elected president of the union, taking over from Mr Mabyana, and Mr Mngomezulu was the chairman of Satawu’s Gauteng branch.
Mr Mngomezulu said a probe into the union’s finances shortly after Mr Mphahlele took office caused concern. A decision was taken to ask for a forensic investigation, but the request was ignored.
Last June, Mr Mngomezulu, under instruction from Mr Mphahlele, opened a case of theft at the Kempton Park police station. By August, Mr Mphahlele had resigned from Satawu, saying that he feared assassination.
Attorney Piet du Plessis, who represented the three men on Monday, said his clients denied allegations of wrongdoing and entered pleas of not guilty.
Mr Mahlangu said in his affidavit that the money allegedly stolen had been used in the normal course of his duties as the general secretary of the union and with "no intent to commit fraud".
The state did not oppose bail, which was set at R30,000 for Mr Mabyana and Mr Mahlangu, and at R10,000 for Mr Mashego. State advocate Michael Maseule said bail was set in line with the degree of involvement in the alleged theft.
Magistrate Phillip Venter ordered the three not to contact Mr Mngomezulu and Mr Mphahlele as they were witnesses the state may call when the matter returns to court in April.