How Bosasa tried to silence Basson with threats, accusations of racism

Former Mail & Guardian investigative journalist Adriaan Basson received a series of threatening phone calls from Bosasa employees, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday.

During his testimony before the commission, Basson — who is now the editor-in-chief at News24 — recounted attempts to intimidate him into stopping his reporting on the Bosasa scandal.

Basson had started looking into Bosasa in 2006 while he was working at Beeld newspaper and has published a number of exposés on the alleged fraud and corruption at the controversial firm.

He referred to a specific M&G report which former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi had corroborated during his earlier testimony.

READ MORE: Agrizzi maps Bosasa media ties

Agrizzi also told the commission that certain media consultants were hired by Bosasa to discredit journalists, including Basson and Carien du Plessis. Du Plessis also attended the commission on Tuesday.

According to Basson, the M&G article he wrote was a based on a tranche of emails leaked to him by a source at Bosasa. The metadata on the emailed documents confirmed their veracity, Basson said, adding that the documents were “a smoking gun”.

Basson told the commission that the publication of the report sparked a series of threatening phone calls from people who identified themselves as Bosasa employees.

The callers allegedly told Basson that his article would cost them their jobs. He was also allegedly called a racist.

“If you become a journalist, it comes with a territory that you have to have a thick skin,” Basson said. But the threatening calls were upsetting, he added.

Basson told the commission his source at Bosasa confirmed that his number had been circulated amongst the firm’s employees. An unnamed director allegedly instructed them to call Basson.

Basson also recalled another incident when he received a phone call from a woman who said she was a colleague in the media and wanted to warn him about his reporting on Bosasa.

The real purpose of the call was not to help him, but scare him, Basson said.

According to Basson, the person on the other side of the line revealed that she had certain information about him, including his ID number, his home address and the names of his friends and family members.

“It was clear she was reading from some kind of intelligence document,” Basson said.

The woman allegedly told Basson that she would kill him if he told anyone about the 18-minute conversation.

Basson told the commission that he googled the cellphone number and found that it belonged to former journalist Benedicta Dube.

During his earlier testimony, Agrizzi named Dube and former M&G journalist Stephen Laufer as Bosasa media consultants. Dube was paid R1-million for her services at one point, Agrizzi alleged. Basson said at the time of the phone call his source confirmed that Dube was on Bosasa’s payroll.

Basson wrote about how Dube allegedly tried to threaten and intimidate him in 2009 for the M&G.

READ MORE: ‘Very brave for a young man’

“Dube posed as sympathetic — she warned me Bosasa had commissioned a private investigator to do a report on me and offered to meet me to discuss the ‘bigger” issues behind the story,” Basson wrote at the time.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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