Justice Raymond Zondo’s journey to becoming Mzansi’s next Deputy Chief Justice is a beautiful story.

It is one of those brilliant illustrations of how black people triumphed over racial oppression meant to prevent them from being anything of value.

It’s about a young person’s determination to succeed in a sea of obstacles bequeathed to him by generational poverty.

Even more inspirationally, it is a story of humanity’s best effort at humanness, transcending race and class.

On April 6, 2018, during an interview for the position of Deputy Chief Justice, a tearful Zondo recounted how he was helped by Mr Moosa – a local businessman of Indian descent.

He told the Judicial Services Commission that he got into a ‘loan arrangement’ with Moosa to pay for his fees and groceries for his family. He was to reimburse him later when he completed his studies.

The kind businessman obliged but turned down Zondo’s attempt of repayment. “Do the same to others,” he told him.

I like this Zondo persona. It makes for an ideal role model and hero in a society flooded with villains. He is an organic paladin, born of the people, a splendid beacon for aspiring law practitioners among the poor.

His role as the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture or the Zondo Commission in short, bears all the hallmarks of greatness. It would have elevated him to even greater heights.

Things were looking up for Zondo. Having being pipped by Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of the Gift of the Givers for the title of Person of the Year, he was well on his way to entering the big league of South Africa’s imminent persons.  

But ego got in the way.

With the imminence of the Zondo Commission’s report and the appointment of South Africa’s Chief Justice, it looks like he wanted it all for himself.

He was salivating at the prestige of the Office of Chief Justice and the glory of the Zondo Commission. He planned to release his report in three parts at the end of December, January and February.

With a few days to go, the titans collided. His gigantic ego rammed into President Cyril Ramaphosa’s political survival.

The President instantly hauled Zondo to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria asking for an extension of four months for the release of the report.  He needs this time to communicate his response to Parliament after receiving it, he said.

This tussle is the very axis on which the entire Zondo Commission has rested. It is about its ability to be weaponised as an instrument of prosecuting Ramaphosa’s political opponents. Everything else really doesn’t matter.

They must tread carefully though. This process is a minefield. The President may be right in preferring to respond to the whole report instead of the piecemeal approach as suggested by Zondo.

As the President, Ramaphosa also has the right to the report. But can he, have it?

Since he has been fingered in the Commission, what if the report implicates him? If so, will he, as the President, devise his own plan as to how the report should be released and acted upon, how would he be expected to act against himself?

The other challenge is that the Commission’s report may not stand judicial scrutiny. Public expectation was created that this Commission will assist the NPA in prosecuting state capture criminals.

This gained generous media support. Even Zondo was consumed by this euphoria. He even threw away the rule book in pursuit of being seen to be firm.  With support from friends in the Constitutional Court he undermined both the law and the precepts of justice in many respects.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s matter stands out as an example. Rightly or wrongly, Zuma felt he was treated like an accused person, not as someone who was there to assist the Commission. He walked away. Zondo got annoyed. He found himself embroiled in a quarrel with him. In doing so, he became the player and referee.

From then on, the Zondo Commission spiralled out of control. Some witnesses were allowed to cross examine those who implicated them while others weren’t. In fact, there is great likelihood the report or parts of it will be subjected to a judicial review.

The Zondo Commission’s R2 billion bill could be a fruitless expenditure or it could cost more with years of litigation.

Actually, the question of whether Ramaphosa should be the recipient of the report, and be the person entrusted with implementing its recommendations, hovers huge like a curious beast.  

How I wish Zondo had handled himself differently to replicate the dignified stature and demeanour passed on to him so generously by Moosa.

As a legal mind, he was crafted by the spirit of human triumph and the warmth of magnanimity.  What more can one ever ask for in a person to be trusted with dispensing justice and ensuring adherence to the law?

It’s heartbreaking that Zondo crumbled under the juggernaut of a rampant ego.  He robbed us of a prodigious hero.

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