Bosasa, the scandal the ANC can’t spin

Moreover, the ANC’s unwillingness to comment on the allegations levelled against its heavyweights only increases the doubt of the voters who have stayed away in previous elections. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Moreover, the ANC’s unwillingness to comment on the allegations levelled against its heavyweights only increases the doubt of the voters who have stayed away in previous elections. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

NEWS ANALYSIS

The ANC’s measured approach to the allegations levelled against its members at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture could be found wanting in the wake of the claims made by former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi.

During a media briefing Luthuli House on Tuesday, acting national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said those named at the commission are only “implicated”, explaining they had yet to share their version of events.“We are avoiding doing a running commentary on every witness that appears. In many instances, you can find one testimony contradicts another,” Kodwa said.“The ANC can’t, on the basis of one testimony, rush to make a judgment.”

READ MORE: ANC stands by comrades implicated at Zondo commission

Kodwa’s comments — made in response to Agrizzi’s testimony, which has implicated party heavyweights including Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and ANC MP Vincent Smith — are in line with the ANC’s reaction to the revelations which have emerged from testimony given before the commission over the last five or so months.

Kodwa can often be seen sitting amongst journalists attending the commission.

Agrizzi told the commission that Mokonyane had received gifts and favours from Bosasa from as early as 2002. These were allegedly made in exchange for her “protection” of the controversial service provider.

According to Agrizzi, Mokonyane’s proximity to former president Jacob Zuma was supposed to help Bosasa avoid prosecution relating to investigations into the improper awarding of tenders to the firm.

READ MORE: Mokonyane slams Zondo commission amid Bosasa allegations

Mokonyane has yet to respond to the allegations, but her spokesperson, Mlimandlela Ndamase, said the minister would release a detailed statement relating to Agrizzi’s claims.

Agrizzi further alleged that Smith was paid R45 000 a month in 2011 to stem the tide of negative media coverage relating to Bosasa in Parliament. This was done to make sure the negative attention would not preclude further tenders being awarded to the firm, Agrizzi said.

Smith’s fee was allegedly increased to R100 000 a month in 2016. Bosasa chief executive Gavin Watson also paid Smith’s university fees. Smith has previously confirmed that he received the funds, but denied knowledge that the money was paid by Bosasa. In September last year, Smith said in Parliament that he had entered into a personal loan agreement with Agrizzi, and was led to believe Agrizzi was lending him the funds out of his own pocket.

Agrizzi has denied this.

The ANC has so far seemingly managed allegations that it was unduly influenced by the controversial Gupta family by shifting blame onto a presumably undermined faction within the governing party.

The testimony of former minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, who told the commission in November that the ANC’s national executive committee was gripped by a “season of madness” influenced by the power this faction enjoyed under Zuma’s leadership.

Ramatlhodi explained that the factionalism within the NEC had been fuelled by a system of patronage which started at the top.

“We have removed the top,” Ramatlhodi said, presumably alluding to Zuma’s removal from power.

Ramathlodi’s testimony illuminated some of ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe’s more subtle statements. During his appearance before the commission, Mantashe was at pains to explain that he and others had long been railing against the Gupta family’s alleged capture of certain sections of the ruling party.

But the ANC’s narrative that it has conquered a corrupt faction in its new dawn is compromised by the allegations against Mokonyane and Smith.

Ivor Sarakinsky, a professor at the Wits School of Governance, argues that this sends a mixed message to voters in the the lead-up to the national elections.

Moreover, the ANC’s unwillingness to comment on the allegations levelled against its heavyweights only increases the doubt of the voters who have stayed away in previous elections because of their dissatisfaction with the ANC, Sarakinsky said.

“Ramaphoria has managed to bring those people back into the fold, but that obfuscation is going to alienate them,” he added.

“The spin doctors are taking the public for fools and that is actually where they could do more damage to the ANC in the election than the actual exposure of the facts,” Sarakinsky said.

On Wednesday, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema called for Mokonyane’s resignation. Malema also took President Ramaphosa to task for his own alleged ties to Bosasa.

In November 2018, Ramaphosa answered questions before the National Assembly where he was asked about a payment of R500 000 made out to him by Bosasa.

In his response, Ramaphosa said his son, Andile Ramaphosa, had conducted business with Bosasa, but that the deal was above board and was contracted. However,  Andile denied that the payment was for his benefit.

Ramaphosa subsequently backtracked on his response after it was revealed that the October 2017 payment was actually a donation towards his ANC presidential campaign which he was made without his knowledge.

But, unlike the EFF, the ANC cannot call for high-ranking party members to be disciplined without substantive evidence of their alleged corruption, making the job of spin doctors virtually impossible.

The ANC’s response to the VBS scandal was, by comparison, swift. But those allegations were bolstered by advocate Terry Motau’s comprehensive report on the matter.

Although Smith has seemingly admitted to taking large sums of Bosasa-linked money — a conflict of interest for a member portfolio committee on justice and correctional services — the allegations against Mokonyane have yet to be tested.

And, as Sarakinsky suggests, the ANC’s response to the VBS saga was likely measured against the EFF’s own alleged links to the beleaguered mutual bank.

But the battle to emerge as the least corrupt party in the lead-up to the elections will only become more treacherous as the revelations of the Zondo commission, and other inquiries, keep coming.

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit both subs and writes for the Mail & Guardian. She joined the M&G after completing her master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cape Town. She is interested in the literature of the contemporary black diaspora and its intersection with queer aesthetics of solidarity. Her recent work considers the connections between South African literary history and literature from the rest of the Continent. Read more from Sarah Smit

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