Adriaan Basson

Bosasa affair shows that corruption and racism must fall

2018-09-03 10:48
Vincent Smith addresses the National Assembly during a report on the fitness of SABC board to hold office. (Lulama Zenzile, Gallo Images, Beeld, file)

Vincent Smith addresses the National Assembly during a report on the fitness of SABC board to hold office. (Lulama Zenzile, Gallo Images, Beeld, file)

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Sometimes a truth is so obvious that you don't see it until somebody actually verbalises it for the ear.

This happened to me last year when I attended a talk shop between a group of journalists, academics and politicians on the future of South Africa and politics.

After several inputs, Professor Xolela Mangcu, the Cape Town sociologist and author, said (and I paraphrase) that South Africa had two big problems: racism and corruption. The racists, he explained, point fingers at the corrupt to justify their hateful ways, and the corrupt point to the racists when they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

This was a lightbulb moment for me, as they say in the business books.

How many times have we heard corrupt politicians or businessmen pointing fingers at the "racist" or "untransformed" (a euphemism for racist) media, civil society or opposition parties when they are caught diverting taxpayers' money to the nearest BMW dealership?

Similarly, how many times have we heard racist "activists", estate agents or trolls pointing fingers at the "corrupt Jacob Zuma" or ANC when they are challenged about their vulgarities, born from a deep-seated sense of superiority?

Of course, both racism and corruption must fall if we truly want to be a mature democracy in which each citizen is treated equally and fairly, irrespective of the colour of their skin, and in which every cent of state revenue is spent wisely to educate, cure and protect our people.

Little black book

There should be no debate about which one is worse: corruption and racism combined are a potent cancer that will destroy our social fabric and any chance we have to close the gap on vast inequality.

There is no clearer example of this than Sunday's two big Bosasa exposés on News24 and in City Press.

Bosasa, led by Gavin Watson of the infamous Watson-brothers clan from Port Elizabeth, is a blood-sucking parasite group of companies that live off government tenders from a range of state entities.

Before the Guptas even thought of capturing the state, Watson and co were already dishing out gifts to comrades and civil servants in an attempt to effectively privatise departments like correctional services (DCS), home affairs and social development.

Rumour is that Bosasa had a little black book with the names of several high-ranking politicians, government officials and parliamentarians who were on the company's unofficial payroll. (The company also used a different front company to pay its white employees to hide them from the books for a better BEE rating, but that is a story for another day.)

Some of these names are in the public domain: Linda "Richman" Mti, the former prisons boss who got a house for overseeing Bosasa's rags to riches at correctional services; Patrick Gillingham, the former finance chief of DCS who received cars and oversees trips; and now also Vincent Smith, the previously respected ANC MP who chaired Parliament's portfolio committee on correctional services for a long time.

Watson's henchman

In the early years of Bosasa's capturing foray, Smith was a critical voice in Parliament who didn't shy away from asking the tough questions. As an investigative reporter who believed his overtures, I provided Smith with information on the inner workings of Bosasa, naively hoping that he would bring to book a company that was openly bragging about its support of the ANC, particularly in Gauteng.

I now know why Smith stopped taking my calls; he started taking cash, or "loans" as he calls them, from Bosasa. Read that story here.

Like any "capo" worth his salt, Watson needs a henchman to do his dirty work. That person came in the form of Angelo Agrizzi, a loud-mouthed Italian with a penchant for Ferraris and, allegedly, racism.

For many years, Agrizzi was the action man on the ground at Bosasa, commanding his troops to win tenders through whatever means necessary.

Then Watson and Agrizzi fell out.

Last month, Agrizzi told News24 he was ready to spill the beans. "I am [also] fully aware that I have been aware of all the wrongdoings, but will tender my full cooperation in resolving the matter, and bringing both clarity and truth to the matter regarding the racketeering, corruption and money laundering that I have been aware of over the last 18 years," he announced in a press statement.

K-word

Threatened by a potentially explosive dossier of Gupta-scale, Watson had to urgently make sure that whatever Agrizzi said would be dismissed by an increasingly corruption-disgusted nation. A trap was set to secretly record Agrizzi using the k-word during a meeting with Watson's children, who are employees of Bosasa, during a supposed mediation meeting – two days after the whistleblowing statement.

Agrizzi allegedly fell for the trap hook, line and sinker (he denies using the word, but City Press has verified the authenticity of the recording). Read the story here.

Both these stories are important and deserved the attention they got.

If Watson and his cronies hope the story about large-scale corruption at Bosasa (now trading as African Global) will disappear because of the k-word, he is wrong.

And if Agrizzi hopes the story about his alleged racism will disappear because of the c-word, he is mistaken.

Both should face the wrath of the law, but I am not holding my breath.

Two wrongs don't make a right, and we will continue to uncover all the truths in this sordid affair.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanBasson

Read more on:    bosasa  |  vincent smith  |  corruption  |  racism
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