Well here’s a risk one rarely sees in our line of work: the chief audit executive of the South African Broadcasting Corp. dodged a shooting in Johannesburg over the weekend that the company is calling an assassination attempt.
Thami Zikode, head of audit at SABC since 2017, left his office in the Auckland Park neighborhood of Johannesburg on Friday night as usual and drove home. Four assailants followed and fired shots at Zikode in front of his residence.
Zikode wasn’t hit, and then returned fire with a gun he was carrying himself. He injured at least one of the shooters. By Saturday afternoon, police had taken that injured man into custody and recovered one of the weapons the men used on Zikode plus the suspected getaway car.
So far police have only identified the suspect as a man in his 30s, and said nothing else about the other three assailants. Zikode, meanwhile, plans to be back at work on Monday morning as usual.
We don’t know what the motive might be for the attack on Zikode, but SABC was mired in corruption for decades — everything from fixing contracts, to stifling good journalism, to embezzlement, to bias in editorial coverage in favor of the African National Congress political party. In 2016 the South African parliament investigated that corruption, and in 2017 an entirely new board was named to serve a five-year term.
That board then hired Zikode. Even in SABC’s most recent annual report, published last fall, the company talked about “endemic levels of corruption and maladministration that had been prevalent at the SABC for many years.” Apparently Zikode is leading the charge on numerous fraud and corruption investigations as SABC tries to clean up its act.
In theory, the attack could have been random; Johannesburg is a violent city, after all. So far, however, neither the police nor SABC have seriously entertained that possibility, and the police have not told anyone to cool it with the “attempted assassination” language. I take that to mean it’s a safe bet Zikode was targeted for reasons related to his work.
SABC chairman Bongumusa Makhathini spoke about the shooting Saturday morning, and vowed that “no amount of intimidation will stop us” from proceeding with Zikode’s investigations as usual.
Makhathini appeared for an interview on one of SABC’s news channels, and it’s rousing stuff — the ringing endorsement of uncowed corporate governance that audit and compliance executives would want to hear at any time, let alone amid something as shocking as this.
The interview is worth the five minutes of your time to watch. Compliance and audit executives routinely talk about the pressure and retaliation they face just for doing their jobs well, and now one of our own is facing real physical danger because of it. We wish Zikode and his family well, and will try to follow this case.