Adriaan Basson

Bosasa and I

2019-01-18 06:00
Former Bosasa Chief Operations Officer (COO) Angelo Agrizzi testifies at the Raymond Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. (Alaister Russell, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

Former Bosasa Chief Operations Officer (COO) Angelo Agrizzi testifies at the Raymond Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. (Alaister Russell, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

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Every journalist needs a bit of luck after lots of hard work to publish your big break.

Mine came in the form of a random company search I did one afternoon after working for months with colleague Carien du Plessis to find a link between an obscure Krugersdorp-based company called Bosasa and the correctional services department (DCS).

While covering Parliament's portfolio committee on correctional services, Carien picked up rumours about Bosasa receiving tender after tender from the DCS.

With prisons being the unsexiest beat in journalism, we had to find something more than tender irregularities. We did basic due diligence on the company and established that it was led by charismatic CEO Gavin Watson, one of the famous "Watson brothers" from Port Elizabeth, and a bunch of largely unknown directors like Papa Leshabane and Joe Gumede.

Bosasa styled itself as a "facilities management" group, that basically meant they could tender for any government service. Under subsidiary brands like Sondolo, Phezulu and Kgwerano, we discovered that the group scored from many other government departments too.

READ: Bosasa is the ANC's heart of darkness

It was a tender-rich company in every sense of the word.

My luck came in the form of a company search on Linda Mti, then commissioner of correctional services, who had a company registered for him by Bosasa's company secretary. It was the smoking gun we were looking for.

For the first time we had direct evidence linking Mti to Bosasa. We now knew something was wrong but couldn't imagine the extent of the rot that has played out over the next 13 years, including this week at the Zondo commission through Angelo Agrizzi's evidence.

I had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting Agrizzi a few times whilst covering the story for Beeld, the Mail & Guardian and later City Press. It was immediately clear to me that the brusque Italian was Watson's henchman and in charge of doing his dirty work.

Agrizzi, like his colleagues, was arrogant and crass. They thought they were untouchable and would derive much pleasure from the fact that, despite story-after-story implicating them in large-scale rent-seeking, Bosasa was never arrested, prosecuted or blacklisted.

Even after the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) produced a shocking forensic report laying bare Bosasa's corrupt dealings with Mti and his department, then minister of correctional services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and acting commissioner Jenny Schreiner did nothing to make sure Bosasa paid back the money and was prosecuted.

In the meantime, Bosasa employees who could no longer stand the corruption and bullying by people like Watson, Agrizzi and Leshabane left under horrendous circumstances. Some became my sources.

ALSO READ: When the cosigliere sings - what to do with Angelo Agrizzi?

Cars were shot at, houses burgled, and death threats made.

My sources were shit scared and I had meetings at the most obscure venues in the West Rand to protect them and their families.

When Bosasa took me and the Mail & Guardian to court to reveal my sources, we declined. We won the case and Judge Moroa Tsoka delivered a seminal judgment to protect the identity of whistle-blowers.

I realised the story was much bigger than a few prisons tenders and made it my mission to connect the dots between Bosasa, the government and the ANC. And so naturally, the threats followed.

After a major tender was cancelled due to our continued publication, Bosasa bosses distributed my cellphone number to staff and told them I would cause them to lose their jobs. I was attacked, threatened and swore at during all hours of the day.

One night while driving from holiday, a woman called me, supposedly to "warn" me against what Bosasa could do to me. She proceeded to read out my address, names of my family and friends and had my ID number. She was stupid enough to call me from her cellphone and I could quickly trace the number to that of former journalist and PR Benedicta Dube.

I was later told Bosasa paid Dube to intimidate me.

As recently as last year, Bosasa, through rogue elements on Twitter, distributed a clip of Agrizzi's racist ramblings in a meeting with Watson's children during which he falsely claims that I visited his house with my children (I visited his house once on my own after he had turned against Watson to try and pursuade him to spill the beans). The dirty tricks continue.

With the support of my editors at the time – Peet Kruger (Beeld), Nic Dawes (M&G) and Ferial Haffajee (City Press) – we continued to dig and could later publish what felt like a police docket against Bosasa.

Still, the Hawks and NPA were nowhere to be seen. Every time I enquired about the lack of progress, I was told some part of the investigation was outstanding. Later on, I was convinced that people in these agencies were paid to kill off the case.

More than a decade later, Agrizzi has turned against his former cronies and is taking the country into the heart of Bosasa's darkness.

He is not wrong to say the group operated like a cult with Watson being the demigod. I heard hair-raising stories of how they would read Bible and pray before cooking tender documents.

Watson scolded employees who wanted to divorce, but his affair with the editor of a company-funded Christian magazine was an open secret. White employees were employed by a shelf company to improve Bosasa's BEE scorecard.

It was an orgy of evil and crime.

I was not shocked to hear Agrizzi's evidence about the brazenness of their evil deeds. What appals and outrages me is the inaction for over a decade by South Africa's law enforcement agencies, the NPA, Bosasa's banks, auditors and lawyers.

Their names will be revealed in due course and they will have to answer for what they didn't do for the past 13 years.

The enablers of state capture by the likes of Watson and Bosasa should not go unpunished. They must all be subjected to the same level of wrath that befell KPMG and Bell Pottinger for aiding and abetting the Guptas.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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