OPINION | Bosasa ‘monopoly money’ does not bode well for ANC

Testimony of Bosasa COO shows government was up for sale long before Jacob Zuma arrived on the scene

PREMIUM

The ANC’s election campaign just took a harrowing turn for the worse.
The revelations before the Zondo state capture inquiry this week amount to a belly blow to the party, which is only just beginning to come to terms with the harrowing impact of the capture attempts by the controversial Gupta family.
The testimony of former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi, who was also CEO Gavin Watson’s right-hand man, revealed that the Guptas did not write the state capture playbook. Rather, they added steroids.
The Watson family’s capture of the state dates back to former president Thabo Mbeki’s tenure, and Agrizzi’s testimony implicated state officials, the National Prosecuting Authority, state-owned enterprise executives and even unionists. He is also set to dish the dirt on high-profile politicians.
The Bosasa corruption scandal is by no means new – it has been documented meticulously for more than a decade by News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson.
As he began on Wednesday detailing the history of the company’s state-sponsored success, which was rooted in bribery and corruption, Agrizzi told the commission how Watson had “helped the comrades”.
It is worth noting that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC presidency received a donation of R500,000 from Watson, who had close links to the governing party prior to the 1994 democratic breakthrough. Ramaphosa eventually admitted this, saying he was not aware of the source of the donation when he initially responded to a question in parliament about it.
Key Ramaphosa supporters have already been implicated for allegedly accepting favours from Bosasa, including MP Vincent Smith, who stepped aside as chair of the constitutional review committee on land, as well as mining minister Gwede Mantashe. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
However, the exposure of the gory details of the extent of Bosasa’s malfeasance does not bode well for any politician with links to the company. It is the stuff of novels.
Watson had a walk-in safe, one of eight, which housed bribe money. This was no petty cash – the company paid between R4m and R6m a month in bribes – which Watson described as “monopoly money”.
“Every single contract [obtained from the government by Bosasa] was tainted by bribes,” Agrizzi said.
He was tasked with keeping an account of money going out.
Eventually he began recording these bribes in “black books”, one of which has now been handed over to the commission.
The bribes were by no means once-off payments, but regular transactions intended to further the company’s business interests.
“Bribery is a trap because you raise your standard of living when you get it. You raise your bar, and when you start complaining, it gets taken away,” Agrizzi said.
While at this stage only a few high-profile people have been exposed, Agrizzi’s testimony is still in its early stages. How does this impact on the ANC? It shows that the government it leads was up for sale long before Jacob Zuma arrived on the scene, although he mastered the game.
It further shows that the criminal justice system is broken and has long been bought.
The Special Investigations Unit handed over a report on Bosasa to the correctional services department containing damning allegations about tender-rigging favouring the company as far back as 2009, but it was not acted upon. In fact, in 2013 then prisons boss Tom Moyane renewed contracts with the company, according to Basson’s reports.
It also means Ramaphosa’s clean-up attempts will have to delve much deeper and may even hit some of his closest allies.
The ANC’s list process for candidates to the national and provincial legislatures has already been a fraught one. The Bosasa revelations could complicate it even further.
There are a number of individuals who remain on the list who have been implicated in wrongdoing during the Zuma era. The number of those implicated is likely to rise should high-ranking politicians be exposed in Agrizzi’s testimony.
The revelations could hobble the ANC’s attempts to regain the confidence of the middle class, who research has shown largely abandoned the party during the Zuma years.
This could have a harrowing impact on the party’s election campaign in a closely fought, highly urbanised province such as Gauteng.
In its 2019 election manifesto the ANC committed to “put an end to state capture, restore the integrity of public institutions and tackle corruption, while ensuring that [the] government has the capacity, resources and people to serve citizens effectively”.
“We are also determined to show no tolerance in the fight against corruption and misconduct within the ANC. We have taken steps to send to parliament and legislatures the best of our public representatives who have made individual and collective pledges to serve our people with respect, integrity and humility,” the manifesto says.
This is a mantra it repeats ahead of every election. But the emperor has been shown to be naked. The true character of the governing party has been exposed, and it is time for it to put aside pretences and move towards a renewal that truly excises the rot at its core.
But can it move away from placing politics above principle, when this is so firmly entrenched?
Marrian is political editor at Business Day..

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