News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson’s testimony before the state capture commission has revealed how facilities management company Bosasa hired and encouraged employees to intimidate him in an attempt at forcing him to stop the publication of further articles revealing the extent of corruption that the company was engaged in.
Basson made these revelations during his brief appearance before the state capture commission in Parktown on Tuesday morning.
According to his testimony, the threats started in 2009 following a series of articles that he had written on the controversial prison facilities management company.
“At the time I was working as an investigative journalist at the Mail & Guardian,” Basson said, recounted two “episodes” that occurred just after various articles on how Bosasa was unduly awarded lucrative tenders from the department of correctional services were published.
“There was a period, during that time, that I started receiving calls on my cellphone. A lot of these calls came during the early morning and at night. Sometimes the calls were from a number visible on my phone. There were also unknown numbers and also landlines,” said Basson.
He added that the message was always the same, individuals making these calls stating that they were Bosasa employees, and that his work was threatening their jobs.
“They said I must stop my reporting on Bosasa. Some of the callers accused me of racism, saying I was only writing these articles because I’m white and I’m a racist,” Basson said.
He soon learnt from a source inside Bosasa that a certain director had circulated his number to employees and encouraged them to call and threaten him.
Basson, however, refused to divulge the director’s name saying he had not corroborated the information given to him by the sources, hence his reluctance to name the individual without verification.
He said there was a “second episode” around February 2009, while he was on holiday with his wife, when he received a call from a person he later established was Benedicta Dube.
Basson said Dube had information relating to where he lived, his identification number, the identities of his friends and family members, and records of his education.
“She wanted to warn me about my investigations into Bosasa. She then proceeded to attempt to convince me that she’s helping me ... She proceeded to tell me how dangerous Bosasa was. I was perturbed by the call. My conclusion was this was a Bosasa operation to intimidate and threaten me,” Basson said.
He said after a quick google search of the number that the individual had used to call him, he soon learnt that it was indeed Dube – a former journalist at e.tv and the Financial Mail – who was at the time into public relations.
“I was later informed by a source at Bosasa that Dube was on the company’s [Bosasa] payroll and was being paid to do some consultancy [work] on me,” said Basson.
When asked by the commission’s head of legal, Advocate Paul Pretorius on whether there was any truth to the utterances made in a voice recording played before the commission in which former Bosasa chief operations officer, Angelo Agrizzi, alleges that Basson visited him at his home with his kids, Basson refuted this.
“I have never taken my children to the home of former Bosasa chief operational officer Angelo Agrizzi, and at the time I had one child. I have met with Agrizzi at his house alone – this after he had indicated that he was turning on Bosasa and planning on being a whistleblower,” said Basson.
Agrizzi told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s inquiry last week that the company had paid media consultants to discredit Basson and fellow colleague Carien du Plessis “to get rid of negative publicity”.
Working for Beeld and Die Burger respectively, Basson and Du Plessis broke the first story of Bosasa’s links to the department of correctional cervices in 2006. They won the Taco Kuiper Award for investigative journalism in 2007.