/ 17 June 2024

KHAYA KOKO: Raymond Zondo, the ‘attention-seeking Barry White’

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Chief Justice Raymond Zondo chats with the media after receiving the lists of members of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures at the Constitutional Court on June 06, 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by OJ Koloti/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Have you ever been irritated by the teeth-rattling sound of fingernails scratching against a chalkboard?

That is the piercing pitch I heard when, in January 2021, Chief Justice Raymond “Attention-seeking Barry White” Zondo prevented the naming of corrupt journalists who received a share of the R48 million State Security Agency (SSA) slush fund to influence public perceptions through the media. 

It was a break from the beauteous bass-baritone voice I believed Zondo shared with iconic United States musician Barry White when the country’s top judge refused to reveal who among the country’s scribes surreptitiously received brown envelopes stuffed with stacks of racks from SSA spooks.  

But why refer to him as “Attention-seeking Barry White”, I hear you ask? 

Well, in January 2022, the Economic Freedom Fighters chastised the chief justice after he responded to former human settlements minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s criticism of the country’s judiciary when she accused black judges of being “too happy to lick the spittle of those who falsely claim superiority” — meaning white people.

In its rebuke, the Red Berets said Zondo should not have responded to the then minister, calling him an “attention-seeking Barry white [who] should heed the…saying that it is not always necessary to speak”.  

Although I like the nickname the EFF created, I differ slightly from the political party in that Zondo — because of the green constitutional court robe that makes him look like an African Ninja Turtle — had a duty as head of South Africa’s highest court to speak fully about bribes given to reporters. 

For background, Zondo, during the state capture commission of inquiry that he chaired, allowed the naming of African News Agency (ANA) — which is owned by Nelson Mandela’s (alleged) erstwhile doctor, Iqbal Survé — as the media house that received R20 million in 2016-17. 

The money was from the SSA-developed Project Wave, conceived to counter negative reports at home and abroad about former president Jacob Zuma with favourable coverage. 

However, when it was time to expose who received the remaining R28 million, during the testimony of an SSA investigator code-named “Ms K”, Zondo halted the witness because the implicated parties had not been forewarned about the evidence against them.

Although the commission said it would inform those accused and publicly reveal them, Zondo’s inquiry report released in June 2022 neither named the other reporters and media houses that received the R28-million balance over two years, nor gave reasons for the omission. 

It is ironic because Zondo — like the long list of washed-up R&B US singers from the 1990s trying to make a comeback by touring South Africa — has crisscrossed the country pontificating about the perils of corruption. 

“The levels of corruption in South Africa have reached completely unacceptable proportions. Unless something very drastic and effective is done, soon we will have no country worth calling home,” Zondo asserted, speaking in November last year at a talk shop about graft.  

It is evident that you, Mr Chief Justice, keep telling us this, and telling us that; always saying that you have a lesson you want to teach. Well, here we are, Zondo, practice what you preach. 

If, indeed, he is serious about fighting the scourge of corruption, I hope Zondo reveals the missing media members before his role ends in August and he goes on retirement. 

But I’m not holding my breath that Zondo will heed my call, having resigned myself to the fact that I’m sharing a profession with a corrupt cabal that has conjured the greatest escape from justice since Ananias Mathe

Unfortunately, the stain of a soiled media industry will live with reporters longer than the lifetime it has taken football club Kaizer Chiefs to win a trophy. 

Not that any of that will concern Zondo, who is readying himself to sing this creaking tune long into retirement.