Ralph Mathekga: One year later, Zondo deserves a Bell's!

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo chairs the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. (Felix Dlangamandla/Gallo Images)
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo chairs the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture. (Felix Dlangamandla/Gallo Images)

The dignity of the commission has been held up by Zondo's personal approach to the process. Even the most reluctant witness could not gather the rudeness to withdraw from the commission, writes Ralph Mathekga.

Today marks a year since the first sitting of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. Lest we forget, the commission was established after an intense political and legal contest regarding whether it should be established or not, and how it should be constituted. This followed the then public protector Thuli Madonsela's recommendations that President Jacob Zuma should establish the commission and the Chief Justice appointing its chair.

Madonsela wanted to ensure that the commission was chaired by an independent judge who would do the job with dignity. Zuma subsequently launched a series of court challenges against Madonsela's reports and its recommendations that he cannot appoint the chair of the commission. As they say, the rest is history.

It is important to recall the short history behind the creation of the commission. It was not formed out of consensus; some resisted its formation fiercely. The ANC cannot be said to have fully supported the formation of the state capture commission.

The then ANC caucus in Parliament did not have a good relationship with Madonsela; often calling her to Parliament for a quick chastising just for a small public humiliation. It was quite heart-warming to see the ANC placing a newspaper advert before the elections; taking pride in the formation of the commission as an indication of the party's commitment to the fight against corruption.

The heroes of the commission are those who believed that it had to be formed. They are the people who always believed that the level of corruption was so deep that it threatened the sovereignty of the state, hence the demand for a wider inquiry.

Those people including civil society organisations, the media, and ordinary folks, have achieved beyond what many democracies can claim to have ever reached. Where else in the world has a country undertaken to investigate how business groups have been influencing the exercise of political power by buying favours and undermining the relationship between leaders and voters

Even if we arrived there by a crisis-riddled route; by creating a state capture commission South Africans have asked the most fundamental question that plagues modern democracies: the question of the influence of money on politics.

Yes, at times things appear bad and hopeless in South Africa. However, our society is very resilient amidst its contradictions. By creating a state capture commission, South Africans have sought to expose how money can infiltrate the relationship between voters and elected leaders.

I fully sympathise with those who say the commission should be judged in terms of the extent to which it shows that there are consequences to bad conduct. Indeed, it would make a big difference for the general public to see people being hauled to jail following revelations of wrongdoing at the Zondo commission. That is however not the only way to assess the impact of the commission.

The commission is important also in the sense that it has revealed the processes through which political power is exercised in South Africa and the type of considerations made by leaders. As the leaders present themselves at the commission, voters will get a better understanding of them, and how smart they are. For example, when a leader comes to the commission and decides not to remember anything that happened during his time in office, voters will have that leadership character laid bare to them.

Speaking of witnesses who came to the Zondo commission with the sole purpose to demonstrate their level of forgetfulness, credit goes to the chair of the commission, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo for maintaining his composure for the period of a year. He has patience bigger than Mount Everest.

Even when everyone realised that a witness was struggling to forget, Zondo always guided them in a way that they would comfortably provide a clear answer, even if it's not a truthful one. It takes a great deal of tolerance for someone in his position not to crack and throw the cutlery around. 

In one instance, Zondo asked a witness: "Do you think you remember the incident, or you do not remember it now and you might remember it later, or you are sure it did not take place?" That's a very long walk around the witness; a walk that Zondo has mastered with precision.  

The dignity of the commission has been held up by Zondo's personal approach to the process. So far, he has ensured that no one abruptly walks away from the commission; even the most reluctant witness could not gather the rudeness to withdraw from the commission.

The one-year anniversary of the Zondo commission should be a celebration of the great Deputy Chief Justice for one year of delicate balancing work; the man deserves a Bell's!

- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views.The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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