I usually avoid watching the Zondo Commission because I find it triggering. Evidence leader Kate Hofmeyr reminds me of an Afrikaans girlfriend I once had who interrogated me relentlessly if I failed to come up with a plausible explanation for something I might or might not have done. And the head of the legal team, Paul Pretorius, reminds me of a PT instructor in the army who did his best to kill me because I was from Durban and seemed not to care that we were at war.
I did catch a bit of the show on Monday, though, but only because Jacob Zuma was due to make a rare appearance. It was like getting the chance to watch an alpha lion sneak into another alpha lion’s den. Anything could happen, especially when the one lion has been doing everything it can to avoid encountering the other lion and is only there under tremendous duress and is massively grumpy as a result.
It’s as close as we can get to the good old days when gladiators fought, red in tooth and claw, before the roaring crowds in the Colosseum. Sadly, Hillside House in Parktown is a poor substitute for the Flavian Amphitheatre. It might be a bit of a circus at times, but it’s a far cry from the Circus Maximus. And cheap nylon suits are no match for the deadly tridents and golden armour worn by the likes of Spiculus and Spartacus.
Also, and I hate to say it, Judge Zondo is no Julius Caesar. By the looks of him, it’s unlikely he has even seen a Caesar’s Salad. Actually, that’s not right. I do apologise. It was Emperor Joaquin Phoenix who gave the thumbs-up to the Hispano-Roman soldier Maximus Decimus Meridius, known by his slave name Russell Crowe.
I don’t want to get too heavily into it, but there are distinct parallels between the Zondo Commission and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. I must say though, the commission could do with a Juba. And I don’t mean iJuba, although that wouldn’t hurt either. Juba was a fierce Nubian gladiator who … ah, forget it.
There’s something very soporific about watching Zondo go about his work. He is a master at lulling witnesses into a false sense of security. He is also a master at lulling people to sleep. It’s an interesting tactic, because if everyone falls into a vegetative state, we can be done with this filthy business before another generation of lawyers is unjustly enriched.
I would have loved to have had Raymond Zondo for a grandfather. Of course, he would have had to make sure he was out of Durban North and on the bus to Umlazi before sunset. Unless he worked for my parents, in which case he would be able to stay overnight in the kaya if his papers were in order. But if he was my grandfather, that would have made my mother or father black, in which case they’d have been living together illegally and … and I might have gone on to host The Daily Show and never worried about money ever again.
Anyway. Monday wasn’t as wild as I was hoping. Zuma sloped in and sat down. Two hours later he stood up and sloped out again. He didn’t have his umshini wami face on, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t have liked him for a grandfather. Not with that look. Or that many children. I already resent having to share my paltry inheritance with my sister. I can’t imagine how I’d feel having to share the spoils with a couple of soccer teams worth of siblings and whatnot.
I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for advocate Muzi Sikhakane. He was admitted to the Bar in July 1992. I was admitted to sixteen bars that very same month. Okay, I was thrown out of most of them, but still.
Zuma’s hired gun seemed ill at ease. Perhaps he sensed that everyone already knew that he knew the outcome before the charade even began. He was quick to remind Zondo that he was under instruction from his client, the subtext being that he’d sooner be nursing baby sloths in Costa Rica if it paid equally well.
He also pointed out that he and the judge hailed from the same village. In the treacherous swamplands of the law, this could just as easily have been a threat as a display of collegiality.
Like Sikhakane, I too have feigned docility and deference while playing the long game against a superior adversary. In my case, almost always women. And almost always they never fell for it. I got the feeling the honourable Zondo was seeing right through Muzi and Muzi was seeing Zondo seeing through him and so they bared their teeth at one another knowing that a zero-sum game is sometimes the only game in town.
Sikhakane swore that his client had no intention of defying the commission. In fact, Zuma had been looking forward to it for a very long time. Super keen to appear.
“Yessss,” said Zondo, nodding sympathetically, pausing monetarily to fill in his state-issue sudoko.
Sikhakhane’s ultimatum was clear. If the deputy judge president fails to … stand down? Be more sensitive? Give Zuma a cuddle and a back rub? Stop hearing the testimony of anyone who can put his client at the heart of the state capture project? Failing which, Zuma will either clam up like Dudu Myeni or it’s Stalingrad all over again.
Sikhakhane did suggest there was something to look forward to. He said, “If you blow us today, what happens?” Well, I imagine the ratings would go up considerably. I would advise, though, that we wait until the children are in bed before we reach that stage of the proceedings. It seems unlikely, though, that Zondo will be open to granting this kind of relief.
- This column first appeared in The Citizen on 18 November.
* UPDATE: Judge Zondo has ruled against recusing himself. After making the ruling, he nipped off for a quick wee and when he came back Zuma had disappeared. Went AWOL, just like that. Zondo, who had performed well under pressure up to this point, lost his nerve and blew the dismount by not sanctioning Zuma. The former president is a walking sack of contempt and I’ll pay a handsome reward to anyone who makes a citizen’s arrest.