News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson told the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture on Tuesday that a public relations executive paid by Bosasa said she would "kill" him if he told anyone about a threatening phone call she had made to him.
Basson was testifying about incidents in and around 2009 and how he was harassed with threatening phone calls while he was investigating revelations of corruption involving management company Bosasa and the Department of Correctional Services.
Basson told Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that he discovered that the caller was Benedicta Dube, a former journalist who worked at, among others eTV and Financial Mail, who it was also established was being paid by Bosasa.
She called him one night when he was returning from holiday and told him that he was "very brave for a young man", and proceeded to reveal a range of personal details, including the names and addresses of family and friends.
Dube masked the call as an attempt to "warn" Basson that Bosasa was a very powerful company and that his reporting was causing ructions.
Basson, however, told Zondo that he had interpreted the call, not as a bona fide attempt to help him, but that it was rather intended to "scare and intimidate" him to stop reporting on Bosasa.
"She told me she would kill me if I told anyone about the call. It was meant in a serious way," he said, adding that it was disturbing and worrying that personal details "that couldn't simply be Googled" was being read back to him.
"It was clear to me that she was reading from an intelligence report."
Basson is the first journalist to testify about state capture and grand corruption at the commission.
His testimony, and the line of questioning by evidence leader Paul Pretorius, was limited to incidents of intimidation which had impacted on Basson's reporting on Bosasa. He wasn't asked in detail about his investigations or journalism, and wasn't asked to reveal sources of his stories.
Pretorius, however, was tempted to explore Basson's knowledge of Bosasa's inner workings and remarked that he was aware that the journalist "has much to tell", but that his testimony was limited.
According to Basson, he first started receiving intimidating phone calls in 2009 after a story was published in the Mail & Guardian detailing the extent of the corrupt relationship between Bosasa and the Department of Correctional Services. He told Zondo that the story was based on leaked emails from Bosasa.
"We often look for 'smoking guns' in investigative journalism and we often don't find them… but this was a smoking gun. This was real proof of the company's access [to government] and, I guess, what we now call state capture," Basson said.
Threatening phone calls
After the publication of the story, he started receiving threatening phone calls. These calls were made during all hours of the night, Basson said. "Some callers said: 'You're only doing this because you're white and you're racist.' Other callers said: 'Stop your shit, stop writing your shit.'"
He confirmed to Zondo that he still had some of those numbers and was willing to provide them to the commission. He added that one of his sources said that his cellphone number had been distributed to individuals inside Bosasa, with the instruction to call and harass him.
READ: Bosasa and I
Pretorius also referred to a recording that was presented to the commission in which Angelo Agrizzi, the former Bosasa executive, says that Basson visited his house with his children.
Basson told Zondo that Agrizzi's contentions were false and that he only visited the former Bosasa bagman once.
"I went to see Agrizzi at his home during the course of my work as a journalist. I went there to talk to him, because I had heard he had turned against Bosasa and hoped he could provide me with information. I have never, and would never, take my children to a work meeting," Basson said.
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