Newsmaker: The real Angelo Agrizzi – the bag man

spilling the beans Angelo Agrizzi testifies at the state capture inquiry this week PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla
spilling the beans Angelo Agrizzi testifies at the state capture inquiry this week PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

Some of Angelo Agrizzi’s former co-workers find no fault with his personality, but others paint a picture of a ‘corrupt racist’ who should ‘rot in jail’.

Angelo Agrizzi has gone from being virtually unknown to famous in two weeks flat.

The man, who has kept the nation enthralled during the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture with his revelations of cash being packed into grey bags for bribes and then delivered to politicians, government officials and even journalists, has become so famous that his name is now part of the country’s lexicon.

The name Agrizzi, now synonymous with exposure, has become a new verb. If you Agrizze, you expose. The present continuous tense is Agrizzing.

The man so mastered the skill of packing and counting cash that he is able to calculate an amount just by looking at a pile of money. This he attested to when telling Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo the total amount of a stack of R100 and R200 notes during his testimony.

“That’s R100 000,” Agrizzi declared after watching two minutes of video played at the commission in which Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson could be seen carrying two thick wads of cash, allegedly used to pay a bribe.

Agrizzi, who admits to having been central to the corruption saga at Bosasa, has, after he emerged from a coma occasioned by an operation to remove a tumour from his heart, decided to come clean and do the right thing.

Those who worked with him at the company now called African Global Operations who spoke to City Press this week say he is loved and loathed in equal measure.

While some say he cared deeply about his staff, others say he was a bigger initiator of corruption than he lets on, and taught Watson a thing or two about how to influence contracts through illegal means.

Security specialist Mike Bolhuis, who has provided protection for Agrizzi since the threats against his life began, told City Press this week: “The man wants to make amends for his past and is determined to do whatever it takes to leave his bad past where it belongs. I have known since December that he was going to tell it all and, no matter what threats are coming his way, nothing will deter him.”

Chronicling what he knows about Bosasa’s dealings has provided a layer of protection for Agrizzi, Bolhuis said.

“It is better now after he started exposing those who benefited from paying bribes and those who received them. I think the reason may be that they do not want to be implicated should anything happen to his life,” he said.

Bolhuis said he first came across Agrizzi when he was asked to investigate the mysterious death of a Bosasa employee’s relative, whose body was found at a lodge rented by the company.

“We investigated the death after the suspicions were that he might have been poisoned, but we ruled out any foul play,” he said.

“We then conducted a security assessment after several threats were made against Agrizzi, and decided that he needed heightened security.”

Agrizzi (51) has for the past two weeks travelled between his home in an upmarket security estate in Dainfern in northern Johannesburg and Parkhurst, where the commission is being held. He has hired private bodyguards, and is also accompanied by police officers.

Denise Bjorkman, who ran an external counselling service for Bosasa employees from within the company’s offices in Krugersdorp, worked closely with the company’s former chief operating officer.

She would call on him for anything from a broken light bulb in her office to advice on personal problems, and Agrizzi would help sort the problem out.

“My partner Dr Thembi and I have only positive observations to make about Angelo Agrizzi,” she told City Press. “Whatever we are hearing at the Zondo commission is news to us, but we laud his courage to come forward.”

Bjorkman says there were two camps in Bosasa – “the Watson camp and the Angelo Agrizzi camp”.

“I never saw him [Agrizzi] lose his temper, even with the most trying staff. He was kind, deeply concerned about all staff, helped them out of his own personal pocket when tragedy befell families, seemed to know everyone by name and never forgot details of the families of staff, including births, celebrations and losses,” she said.

“He never stood on rank and was known by everyone, including the cleaners, as just Angelo. He had an open-door policy. If staff showed potential, he would open every possible door for growth, further education and upskilling.

“I know hundreds of staff members who would gladly go to the commission to testify in his favour.”

But other Bosasa employees described Agrizzi as a “racist man who accumulated wealth on corruption and looting of the state, and who should just rot in jail”.

In September, City Press reported on a voice recording of a man, allegedly Agrizzi, referring to Bosasa chairperson Johannes Gumede and spokesperson Papa Leshabane as “k****rs” several times. The voice on the recording was trying to convince Watson’s children to remove Gumede and Leshabane from the company.

A former Bosasa employee told City Press: “Have you heard that recording in which he referred to his former colleagues as k*****s who were lazy and had done nothing for the company? Angelo was the corruption mastermind. There is nothing noble about him coming out now.”

Agrizzi’s confidants told City Press this week that he would be dealing with the racial slurs at the commission this week, and will say that he “deeply regrets” what he said.

Agrizzi told the commission that Watson started each day with a prayer meeting that he was expected to attend. He appears no less religious than his former boss, and appears to be leaning on his faith during his gruelling testimony on the stand.

In one WhatsApp status update he posted last week, he quoted Hebrews chapter 2 verse 13, which says: “I will put my trust in him.”

This was followed by another verse, this time from the book of Isaiah: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

But a scan of his personal website shows more vanity than humility, playing up his 35-year career as a “leader, consolidator, change agent, innovator, mentor and scenario planner”. Added to this, sources told City Press that he owns at least three Ferraris.

Agrizzi claims to have “pioneered numerous business entities” within Bosasa and made them a success”, including security systems, tendering and bid management and detention facilities.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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