How much for your integrity?

Corruption is a heavy thing. Literally. The fat white envelope handed to Mail & Guardian reporter Matuma Letsoalo last Saturday by Veon Bock and an associate seemed have more heft than the two bundles of R100 notes inside could possibly account for.

Perhaps it was the weight of wrongness. R40 000 wrapped in rubber bands doesn’t look like much, spread out for counting, but lying on a table in our newsroom it made distressingly solid the venality, graft and criminality that we so often write about at a remove.

There was no source testimony here, between the M&G and the corrupt act, no leaked forensic report, or police docket; the experience was direct and deeply unsettling.

Veon Bock, CEO of financial-services company SA Quantum, offered Mail & Guardian reporter Matuma Letsoalo R120 000 to suppress his story about regular payments to Noluthando Vavi. We caught him on camera as an associate handed over R40 000

When Bock offered Letsoalo R120 000 to suppress his story about regular payments by his financial services company, SA Quantum, to Noluthando Vavi, two easy choices presented themselves. The first was to accept what would have been, for someone on a journalist’s salary, a life-changing sum of money. Enough to pay a deposit on house.

The second was simply to refuse the bribe and plough ahead with the story.

After consulting senior members of our investigative team and me, Letsoalo chose a third, much harder route: exposing the bribery attempt and securing incontrovertible evidence in the form of cash and hidden-camera video footage.

It was a decision that we made quickly, in the hours immediately following the meeting at which the cash was offered, but not easily.

At the most basic level, there were concerns for the safety of the reporter. Meeting people whom you do not know well and who have every incentive to shut you up is intimidating enough. Meeting them in deserted parking lots covertly to film them handing over substantial sums of cash is downright frightening.

Little choice
There were also questions of law and journalistic practice. Conducting stings of this nature is not a strong part of the South African print media tradition.

But we felt that we had little choice. Very public allegations of corruption have been levelled at journalists by the ANC Youth League and there is growing national anxiety about the damage graft is doing to our democratic institutions and our economy.

Equally important, simply to report the payments to Noluthando Vavi and to ignore the bribe attempt would be to misrepresent the facts. Clearly, if Bock feels a payoff of R120 000 is warranted to suppress the story, he believes that the conduct the story exposes is so seriously improper that its exposure would be enormously damaging.

It is important that readers be made aware of that.

But we needed to make sure that we handled the process rigorously and ethically.

Letsoalo was accompanied to the meeting where the bribe was first offered, by a colleague, Lucky Sindane, so he had a witness. He informed me and other senior colleagues immediately afterwards.

He then drafted an affidavit outlining the circumstances of the offer. That statement was signed and commissioned at the Rosebank police station and emailed to our attorneys before the cash was handed over.

Bock was nervous about discussing the story on the telephone, but he is clearly captured on video leading Letsoalo to a car where an associate is waiting with the envelope. The video has all the drab ordinariness of routine immorality. Cellphone records will show his calls to Letsoalo, setting up the meeting.

I was waiting a block away, and on leaving the meeting Letsoalo immediately met me beside the road, where he handed over the cash and the hidden camera to me. I watched the video to ensure that it was clear and arranged for the cash to be photographed before delivering it to our attorneys.

It is in now in their safe – the weighty evidence of the soft bundles of cash in the blank envelope.

Advertisting

Government wary of evacuating South Africans stuck in China

Lack of capacity to deal with the coronavirus and fear of exposing the majority of South Africans to the disease puts repatriation plans on ice

Cradock Four back to haunt De Klerk

Pressure is mounting on the NPA to charge the former president and others involved in political killings during apartheid

Ramaphosa makes peace with Malema over gender-based violence comments

In his Sona response, the president apologised for the weaponising of gender-based violence, saying the attack on the red beret leader was "uncalled for"

Steenhuisen takes the lead in DA race while Ntuli falters

‘If you want a guarantee buy a toaster. This is politics’
Advertising

Press Releases

Response to the report of the independent assessors

VUT welcomes the publishing of the report of the independent assessors to investigate concerns of poor governance, leadership, management, corruption and fraud at the university.

NWU student receives international award

Carol-Mari Schulz received the Bachelor of Health Sciences in Occupational Hygiene Top Achiever Award.

Academic programme resumes at all campuses

Lectures, practicals, seminars and tutorials will all resume today as per specific academic timetables.

Strategic social investments are a catalyst for social progress

Barloworld Mbewu enables beneficiaries to move away from dependence on grant funding

We all have a part to play to make South Africa work

Powering societal progress demands partnerships between all stakeholders

So you want to be a social entrepreneur?

Do the research first; it will save money and time later

Social entrepreneurship means business

Enterprises with a cause at their core might be exactly what our economy desperately needs

Looking inwards

Businesses are finding tangible ways to give back – but only because consumers demand it