PMB prof killed at home

2009-02-22 00:00

RETIRED KwaZulu-Natal professor Samuel Jotham Zondi (71) was tortured and killed in his Pietermaritzburg flat on Wednesday last week.

His body — gagged, with hands bound behind him and burnt — was found in his flat at Moyra Mansions, Alexandra Road, on Friday evening.

His family had since Wednesday evening made several unsuccessful attempts to contact him.

The body was decomposing and his face and upper body were badly burnt. “We were shocked at what we saw, a clear result of ruthless torture; he was set alight while both his hands and legs were tied. What kind of a person does something like that to an old man like my father?” said Zondi’s daughter, Phindi Masondo.

Zondi had both a house in kwaMashu and a flat in Pietermaritzburg where he lived by himself during the week, returning home on weekends.

Suspicions about his disappearance were confirmed when the family received a call from a Durban shop assistant who inquired about Zondi’s credit card being used in the shop.

Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Henry Budhram said the suspects left a trail during their shopping spree with Zondi’s credit card.

“His credit card was being used at stores in Durban on Wednesday and Thursday.” Purchases were made at restaurants, linen shops and department stores in Durban.

Zondi last spoke to his wife, Sbongile, at midday on Wednesday, and the family were concerned when he remained out of contact for more than one day.

The family drove from his house in kwaMashu to Pietermaritzburg on Friday after numerous messages left on his cellphone were not returned.

“When we saw his car was missing from the parking garage and the door to his flat was locked, but the burglar gate unlocked, we thought he had been kidnapped.

“However a mechanic who had been servicing the car came to the complex looking for him. He had also tried to call him on his cell,” said Masondo.

She said a locksmith was called to open the flat.

Police arrived at the flat at 8.40 pm on Friday, but were unable to remove the body and take forensic evidence that evening because it was dark.

On Saturday morning, SAPS forensic experts arrived at the complex to remove the body and examine the scene. They were followed by undertakers, family members and a priest.

Zondi’s widow wept when the body was removed from the second-floor flat to a mortuary vehicle in the grounds.

A strong smell wafted over the hushed complex, forcing residents to shut doors and windows.

Zondi had lived in the complex for more than 10 years and residents knew him as a wise and friendly old man.

Neighbour Makhosi Mthembu said Zondi was a good friend of her family. “When we arrived here in 2003 he was already staying here and he became my husband’s friend. Every now and then we would invite him to our house for dinner. He was a kind and generous man.”

A retired professor of commerce, Zondi had developed a hobby in video recording and he did all his editing in his flat.

“His flat was his office. He enjoyed his hobby of recording weddings and traditional functions,” Morya Mansions committee member Henry Sterley said.

“We were both retired old men and every time we met, we wouldn’t just greet each other but we would engage in a conversation …

“We are devastated as a committee and residents, we always consulted with him on decisions about flat levies and other matters because he was a man of great wisdom.”

A long-time friend and colleague, Chris Mkhize, said he was crushed by the news of Zondi’s death.

“I was destroyed by the news, we were very close, and I’ve known him since the early ’70s. We had just finished a book about financial management and planning … it is due to be published in two weeks.”

Mkhize said South Africa was robbed of one of its greatest sons. “He was a top-quality educationist, very analytical, a mathematical thinker. Zondi was rated as one of the country’s real successes…

“It’s a pity we have people who have no respect for elderly people in South Africa, and if nothing is done about this our country will be destroyed.”

Mkhize and Zondi were tennis partners, playing regularly to keep fit. Zondi’s opponents said he was a strong player.

“I met him [for the second time] in 2007 at a friendly tennis tournament in Pietermaritzburg and he was a very powerful player,” Ndondo Pewa said. He said he first met Zondi in 1970 at Ongoye.

“He taught me jazz; he had a good collection of jazz albums.”

During a long and varied career, Zondi became vice chancellor at the Natal Technikon Pietermaritzburg campus before his retirement in 2004.

Sources close to the investigation said the police are following leads in Durban and are closing in on the suspects.

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