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Zondo villains: Amnesiac, paranoid, unhinged

Over the past three years the state capture project has been laid bare at the Zondo commission. We have heard the incredible tale of kleptocracy that took place under our noses. And like any good story, it has its villains. 

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Angelo Agrizzi

Agrizzi is the arch-villain. In the endless hours listening to the former Bosasa boss, South Africans learned how their country was systematically bartered for wads of cash. 

From his tome of testimony you could pick any number of choice quotes, and they would include:

​​“My hands are pretty bruised from all the years of dropping money in the safe.”

“Normally, if somebody is involved in bribery and they do a deal, what would happen is they would get a monthly payment instead of a lump sum … because that way, according to the way I was explained by my superiors at the time, you then have a hold over that person. Because they get their lifestyle [and get accustomed] to that, so they were monthly payments.”

“I’ve learnt my lesson … I’m no longer a racist. There is no longer even a racist thing in my mind.”

“What would happen is: if you didn’t do what was told to you or you questioned it, you became a problem. And problems would have to leave, they would have their salaries cut. We were constantly told that we were white males and that you would not find a job anywhere out there.”

Vuyo Ndzeku

If there’s a comic book equivalent to Vuyo Ndzeku it would be the Riddler. His ability to leave the Zondo commission stunned with his nonsensical prevarications was unmatched. 

As the director of Swissport and JM Aviation, Ndzeku was brought in to make sense of an alleged R2.5-million bribe that had made its way to SAA Technical procurement head Nontsasa Memel. Evidently he had no interest in cooperating. 

Vuyo Ndzeku suffered from memory loss. (Gallo Images)

That much became clear when asked when he got married. “I do not remember”, he said.

The phrase was a theme of his testimony and he would repeat it no less than 80 times.

Fed up with his amnesia, the chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, eventually demanded: “But it cannot be Mr Ndzeku, it cannot be that all the time you are going to say maybe this, maybe that. You know something, tell me what you know.”

He replied: “Chair, what I know I do not remember.”

Nomvula Mokonyane

Mokonyane, the former environmental affairs minister, cemented her villain status when she dithered about a bash for her 40th birthday. 

Agrizzi had previously testified that Bosasa had paid for the celebrations at a Krugersdorp guesthouse in 2003 — an event that was themed “break a leg”. Initially he erred in saying it was for her 50th birthday but later corrected himself.

Nomvula Makunyane said she didn’t ‘break a leg’ at her birthday bash. (Gallo)

In her first appearance at the commission, Mokonyane flat-out denied the allegation. When she was confronted with contradictory evidence she massaged her response. 

“Upon reading the statement, I can confirm that I went for a private dinner and not a ‘break your leg’. I can confirm there was a dinner; it was not a party as said by Mr Agrizzi. It was a surprise thing at the venue and it was not my 50th birthday,” she said.

Questioned on how she remembered other events at the venue but forgot her own birthday, she replied: “I walked into these chambers and the whole world was focused on my 50th birthday called ‘break a leg’. I had to say there was no 50th birthday called ‘break a leg’, which was my 50th birthday. For me chair, that is where I am.”

Brian Molefe

As far as villains go, Molefe is of the meeker variety. He spent much of his time at the commission not just distancing himself from the state capture project but painting himself as the victim.

“Mere mortals like myself, simply do not stand a chance to repeat ourselves against these powerful forces who are trying to extort R8-billion from a state-owned entity, Eskom,” he lamented. 

Former Eskom Chief Executive Officer, Brian Molefe. (Photo by Papi Morake/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

And yet, on another occasion, he dismissed the need to bed himself with a family like the Guptas in the first place. “My career does not need exogenous factors. I can quite well take care of myself. With the experience, training and education that I have, I can survive anywhere.”

In his final change of tone, the former chief executive of both Transnet and Eskom said he was a mere “foot soldier”.

Or perhaps it was all former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s fault.

“I feel that I was done in by the public protector … the person who was supposed to protect me from this onslaught that happened because of evidence or in the absence of evidence, the person that was supposed to protect me was the public protector.” 

Malusi Gigaba

Much of Gigaba’s multiple days at the Zondo commission were spent in the same way as other state-capture era officials: flat-out denying he caught any of the graft floating over his head.

“I think as I have stated, chairperson, nothing, absolutely nothing which has been presented here places me anywhere near the money, not seen the money,” he insisted. “I have not taken the money. I have not delivered money anywhere. I have not been part of the contracts. And so to the extent that it happened during my tenure, it would be purely coincidental.”

But as the minister of public enterprises from 2010 to 2014, surely he would have been aware of the Gupta family’s state looting project? Especially considering he had proven interactions with the family.

“That is not true. That is not true. Absolutely not true … knowing a person does not make you complicit in their wrongdoing if they are involved in wrongdoing.”

Where Gigaba differed from other state capture accused was his to-and-fro with his estranged wife Nomachule Norma Mngoma, whom he accused of using the commission to finagle a better divorce settlement. This included a bizarre accusation about a South African astronaut.

“She told me that her father was a businessman living in New York City, that she regularly visited New York and would on occasion win awards from Mark Shuttleworth that would require her to go do some work in New York.” 

David Mahlobo

Mahlobo, the former intelligence minister, is the man who seemed to have the misfortune of always being photographed at former president Jacob Zuma’s ear. Accusations emerged at the commission that the relationship was a sinister one and that Mahlobo would collect bags filled with millions of rands for his boss.

Former State Security Minister David Mahlobo testifies at the Zondo Commission on April 09, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

“[People think] the former president just appointed 20 people who know nothing, and we’re just being used,” he said. “I was not used. I’m conscious, I’m a professional, I ran government, Baba Zondo, I ran departments where I got clean audits as an accounting officer, I know administration and I know politics. I will not break the law wittingly or unwittingly.”

When he had earlier been pressed on the matter by evidence leader Paul Pretorius, he interpreted the questions as distinctly patronising. 

“Baba Zondo, to assist this process, if Mr Pretorius is going to have an attitude I can give one back. He cannot speak to me like a child. I cannot allow it.”

Jacob Zuma

The big don. Zuma’s relationship with the Zondo commission is characterised more by what he didn’t say. His first bout of testimony, in July 2019, was an exercise in deflection and one in which he began to outline a three-decade plot to ruin his reputation.

In sickness and in health: Former President Jacob Zuma waves at his supporters outside the Pietermaritzburg high court. (Photo by Gallo Images/Phill Magakoe)

“There were three intelligence organisations that met — had a meeting — to discuss me and had a plan to begin in 1990 a process of character assassination of Zuma,” he said

Later he would claim that the ill-will would develop into an assasination attempt that would have been carried out in KwaZuzu-Natal by purported suicide bombers.

When he returned to the commission more than a year later he presented a lawyer’s letter that asked Zondo to step down as chairperson of the commission. It read: “We are instructed to seek your recusal as chairperson of the commission on the ground that our client reasonably apprehends that you have already adopted a biased disposition towards him.”After the request was denied, the Constitutional Court would later compel Zuma to reappear. His failure to do so saw him start serving a 15-month prison sentence before he was controversially granted medical parole.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian
Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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