The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture continues on Monday, as the testimony of former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi enters its eighth day — the longest hearing to date.
Agrizzi’s bombshell testimony has already implicated a number of government heavyweights and high-ranking government officials, including Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, ANC MP Vincent Smith, erstwhile South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane, suspended deputy head of prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s specialised commercial crime unit Lawrence Mrwebi.
According to Agrizzi, Bosasa maintained its hold on various government entities through the ubiquitous bribing of officials. On Thursday, Agrizzi corroborated aspects of his testimony by taking the commission through one of his “little black books”, a record of people who received monthly payments from Bosasa and the amount they were paid.
While going through the list of some of these names, Agrizzi alleged that Papa Leshabane, the company’s spokesperson, used some part of R71 000 to pay off journalists. Agrizzi did not name the journalists who allegedly received a portion of Bosasa’s bribe money.
The revelation came in the wake of increased discord between the media and the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. Last week Zondo took the media to task after various weekend reports published aspects of Agrizzi’s leaked testimony.
Regulation 11(3) of the commission’s governing rules stipulates that:“No person shall without the written permission of the Chairperson (a) disseminate any document submitted to the Commission by any person in connection with the inquiry or publish the contents or any portion of the contents of such document; or (b) peruse any document, including any statement, which is destined to be submitted to the Chairperson or intercept such document while it is being taken or forwarded to the Chairperson.”
Regulation 12(2)(c)(ii) goes on to state that any person who contravenes Regulation 11 “is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction … to a fine, or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months”.
Zondo questioned the intentions of the journalists who wrote the articles, suggesting that they did not do so in the interest of the public.
“It is wrong. It is unacceptable. It undermines the work or the commission. And for what? A scoop, to make a profit,” he said.
But the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) hit back at the Zondo commission, citing its failure to engage with them on the regulations.
On Saturday, after a meeting between Sanef representatives and the commission, both announced that they would engage in ongoing discussions “in order to deal with other issues on which they may still wish to find common ground”.
In a joint statement, it also emerged that Sanef had raised Agrizzi’s allegation that certain journalists were on the payroll of Bosasa with the commission.
“Sanef raised the serious dangers of this allegation in terms of casting aspersions on the journalism profession as a whole,” the statement reads.
According to the statement, the commission is bound to investigate this matter further as part of its work. Sanef, in turn, implored members of the public to forward any information they may have to the commission.
Sanef had previously been pulled into the Bosasa saga, after an email was leaked alleging that the firm made a R100 000 donation to a crowdfunding campaign set up by Sanef treasurer Adriaan Basson in aid of the SABC 8, who were suspended in 2016 by then chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng for speaking out about censorship at the public broadcaster.
According to the email, supposedly sent by Agrizzi to Bosasa chief accountant Carlos Bonifacio, finance employee Jacques van Zyl and former chief financial officer Andries van Tonder, instructions were given for the “strategic” donation to be made to the fund.
The SABC 8 say they were not aware of who made donations to the fund and Sanef confirmed in a statement that no donations were made by Bosasa. “We have had the opportunity to go through every one of the 394 donations made in July 2016 to the cause and could not find any donation from Bosasa and/or a person connected to Bosasa or a donation for R100 000.”
According to Sanef, donations were made mostly by members of the public.
In another statement, Sanef announced on Friday that it has appointed an independent auditing firm to look into the allegation.
“The emergence of an alleged email, purportedly from within Bosasa suggesting that they may have contributed to the SABC 8 has caused some members of the public to question the ethical commitments of Sanef,” the statement said.
“We want to state categorically that we never solicited funds from Bosasa.”