Bosasa is the ANC's heart of darkness

Gavin Watson leads former president Jacob Zuma on a tour of Bosasa's facililties.
Gavin Watson leads former president Jacob Zuma on a tour of Bosasa's facililties.

The fact that Ramaphosa's campaign managers and fundraisers thought it was okay to accept a donation from a company that so obviously makes its money from dirty tenders is alarming, writes Adriaan Basson.

Courtesy of President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Bosasa state capture scandal is topping the national agenda.

12 years after I first started to investigate Bosasa and its CEO Gavin Watson, a R500 000 donation to Ramaphosa's Nasrec campaign trust has blown open the ANC's complicated, conflicted and downright corrupt relationship with tender-rich companies like Bosasa.

The scandal poses a unique moment for Ramaphosa to show he is serious about fighting corruption, particularly when it concerns himself and the party he leads.

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For Ramaphosa, it's easy to preach anti-corruption when it concerns his foe Jacob Zuma or the Guptas. And yes, the Zuptas deserve every inch of scrutiny they currently experience from the Zondo commission.

But corruption didn't start or end with the Zumas and Guptas. Bosasa captured state institutions long before the Polokwane conference, which heralded in the birth of the second phase of Zuma-sponsored state capture.

A brief history: Bosasa was born out of Dyambu Holdings, a company owned by ANC Women's League leaders like Baleka Mbete, Nomvula Mokonyane, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Hilda Ndude. The company won the tender to run the Lindela deportation centre in Randfontein, on Johannesburg's West Rand, in 1996.

Till this day, Bosasa has never lost this tender from the home affairs department.

The ANCWL leaders brought in Gavin Watson as CEO of Dyambu. Watson is one of the famous "Watson brothers" from Port Elizabeth who refused to play whites-only rugby under apartheid and was closely linked with the ANC underground in the Eastern Cape. 

Watson bought the company and changed its name to Bosasa Operations. One of the company's early directors was former spy boss Gibson Njenje. The company had further links to Thabo Mbeki's presidency through Titus Mafolo, Mbeki's political adviser who was a shareholder in one of Bosasa's affiliates.

It was only in 2006 that Bosasa's proximity to ANC power was exposed when we could prove a business relationship between Linda Mti, the former prisons boss, and a Bosasa employee. A later investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found that Mti was showered with bribes by Watson and co.

READ: Could Bosasa payment impact on 2019 elections?

In exchange, the department of correctional services outsourced its kitchens, security and fencing to Bosasa and paid the company billions to run these national key points.

Even though the SIU handed over its damning report on Bosasa's corruption in our prisons to then prisons minister Mapisa-Nqakula and acting prisons boss Jenny Schreiner in 2009, the state did nothing to recoup its money from Bosasa.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Hawks have been sitting on the case for nine years, with claims of political interference, disappearing dockets and leaked memos abound. Nobody's gone to prison.

In the meantime, Watson – who was closely aligned to the Eastern Cape ANC and by extension Mbeki – realised that the power balance in the ANC had changed and made amends with Zuma and his administration.

This culminated in Bosasa sponsoring two of Zuma's birthday parties, lavishing the former president with gifts. Courtesy of then prisons boss Tom Moyane and his successor Zach Modise, Bosasa kept on scoring from correctional services during the Zuma years.

Bosasa has always had a close relationship with the ANC in Gauteng, and apart from making available its facilities for the party's provincial conferences, the Bosasa headquarters now also housed the party's elections war room.

Clearly the company's links and donations to the ANC go much deeper than Ramaphosa's R500 000.

It comes as absolutely no surprise that Watson and his cronies would have tried to buy their way back into the Ramaphosa-ANC. For them it's not about ideology or governance, but about making sure the palms of those in power are greased to keep the tap of taxpayers' money flowing.

The fact that Ramaphosa's campaign managers and fundraisers thought it was okay to accept a donation from a company that so obviously makes its money from dirty tenders is alarming.

Did Ramaphosa honestly not think he would be compromised by accepting donations from dodgy people and companies? Who else gave money to his campaign? Was it a free-for-all, just to make sure Zuma's candidate didn't see the light day?

What does that mean for Ramaphosa's anti-corruption ticket? What will he say to Watson when he calls him to complain about criminal charges being finalised by a rejuvenated Hawks and newly-appointed NPA boss?

And what exactly is Andile Ramaphosa's dealings with Watson and African Global Operations, Bosasa's new name? The company specialises in running prisons and I would imagine that it is advantageous to have the president of South Africa's son consulting for you on dealings with other African states to run their jails?

We need answers to all these questions, not just the paying back of R500 000, for Ramaphosa to restore his image as a corruption fighter. If he doesn't use this opportunity to close the tap to parasitic "businessmen" like Watson, sucking on the teat of ANC-sponsored state corruption, Ramaphosa's anti-corruption crusade will struggle to get off the ground as anything more than an opportunistic ploy to deal with his political foes.

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

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