Zondo’s sordid saga with Zuma may have ended his chances of being Chief Justice one day
By Nhlanhla Mbatha
For a while let us forget about the man from Nkandla, former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Let us look at the man from Ixopo, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Mlungisi Mnyamezeli Zondo. Both Nkandla and Ixopo are in KwaZulu-Natal.
Author Alan Paton, in Cry, The Beloved Country, describes Ixopo this way: “There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs seven miles into them, to Carisbrooke; and from there, if there is no mist, you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Africa.”
The two former country bumpkins last week faced off at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture chaired by Justice Zondo. The former president had been summoned to appear before the commission by Justice Zondo. Zuma had applied for Justice Zondo to excuse himself in hearing the matter, citing a conflict of interest.
After a week of jostling, Justice Zondo turned down the application. Just who is Justice Zondo?
The deputy chief justice was born in 1960 and received most of his education in KwaZulu-Natal, obtaining his law degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Before joining the Constitutional Court, he was the judge-president of the North Gauteng High Court, and later the judge-president of the Labour Court. He was roped into the Constitutional Court as a justice in 2012, before ascending to the deputy chief justice role in 2017.
During his interview for his current position by the Judicial Service Commission, Justice Zondo told a moving story of his hardship in attaining education. He told the commission how an Indian shop owner helped him with finances to pursue his law degree.
Fast forward to today. It has been a long road from the hills of Ixopo to the high-rise city buildings for Justice Zondo. Sadly, after Justice Zondo’s ruling in the Zuma recusal matter, his chances of succeeding Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng have faded.
His honesty and integrity have been brought into question by this sordid saga of the recusal application.
We are not supposed to know the personal affairs of judges, and about their children out of wedlock, and what they discuss with politicians privately. Justice Zondo’s lack of firmness points to lack of judicial confidence. He is a theoretical and philosophical judge grappling with a chess master in the dirty game of politics.
Zuma has no formal school education but is a graduate from the university of life, the school of hard knocks.
He can extract from a practical situation anything that ensures his survival.
Justice Zondo’s grasp of the practical reality of the power of politics and its interaction with the murky world of crime and business is clearly limited, and naive.
The irony of it all is that Justice Zondo’s professional career advancement is already the biggest casualty of this commission, with the first salvo fired by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, followed by the ANC Women’s League in calling for the next chief justice of the apex court to be a woman.
Is it the end for the man from Ixopo as the road seems to gather mists, clouding his “view from one of the fairest valleys of Africa”?
You be the judge!
Nhlanhla Mbatha is a senior sub-editor at Independent Media.