/ 23 June 2022

Editorial: Zondo takes us back to the future

(Mail & Guardian)
(Mail & Guardian)

US columnists have described how the incidence of people feeling shocked but not surprised by political events rose sharply during the Trump era. The same happened in South Africa while we followed the testimony to the Zondo commission.

The bags of cash leaving Saxonwold, Anoj Singh’s safety deposit boxes, Iqbal Survé’s inducement, the confidential Eskom information emailed to Salim Essa, and Malusi Gigaba’s orders to his wife to delete Facebook photos of her hennaed hands taken at the Sun City wedding where our unholy union with the Gupta family became official: we were left dazed, often sickened, but seldom overly surprised.

We knew we were in serious trouble when Brian Molefe bragged about playing Tetris with power plant maintenance and touted nuclear as the only hope for the future, although we could not gauge the depth of the corruption.

It took time and money, but Chief Justice Raymond Zondo did it, with a final week-long delay which the courts will condone, and so should we. (Though that too, surprised nobody.) Truth is not a tidy exercise but it is a gift. All the clichés apply.

It was annoyingly fitting that his final report landed on a day of load-shedding and that this editorial was written by candlelight. We are where we are because all of that really happened.

Of course Zondo was obsessively trying not only to establish how we got here, but to chart a course through his recommendations to a saner country where state capture cannot repeat itself. This is the harder part, and he knew it.

If memory serves, he referred to the feeding frenzy that marked emergency Covid-19 procurement while hearing the elliptical testimony of President Cyril Ramaphosa. The personal protective equipment scandal lay beyond his mandate, as did Digital Vibes and the unfolding mess of Farmgate, but his point was that we are locked in a continuum.  

Hence to file the report as the history of the Zuma years would be to waste a fine reckoning.  

It speaks to the present as much as to the past and calls on Ramaphosa to review the country’s capacity to investigate and prosecute corruption and to fire ministers who took money. Volume five observes that much may have been avoided if the investigations into the Guptas and Arthur Fraser had not been halted on high order, but that last year more of the same happened when Ayanda Dlodlo allowed the commendable Project Vega to be classified as “rogue”.

We rightly doubt the Hawks’ ability to investigate the robbery at Phala Phala and the president’s insistence that the process has confined him to silence. Nothing stops him from favouring us with a cogent explanation.  

Instead he acts like a man whose lawyer advised him to say as little as possible, lest the facts come along and contradict his version. He should tell where the forex came from and why it was sitting in his sofa, because we deserve to know whether it was going to pay for his political survival at a future date. Should this be the case, we won’t be shocked.