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Mokonyane ‘sets the record straight’ at Zondo commission

Former environmental affairs minister Nomvula Mokonyane said the allegations of corruption made against her at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture “smack of hatred”.

On Monday, Mokonyane opened her evidence at the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — by saying the accusations by former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi that she had received gifts in exchange for her political influence were “extremely defamatory” and “full of contradictions”.

“I find that they’re very insensitive,” Mokonyane said. “I find that they seem to be an act of excessive desperation, for reasons that are better known by Mr Agrizzi, to discredit me, to  destroy the little of what remains of my character.”

Bosasa specialised in providing services to the government, such as to prisons. More than a year ago, Agrizzi blew the lid off the Bosasa operation. He implicated a slew of officials in tender fraud and efforts to protect the firm from investigation, including high-profile politicians and leaders in various spheres of government. Mokonyane was one of the first to be named by him.

Agrizzi suggested Mokonyane’s influence was far-reaching and alleged she was a key protagonist in the efforts to derail the investigation by the National Prosecuting Authority into alleged corruption by Bosasa officials 

He told the commission that towards the end of every year, he was tasked by the former chief executive of Bosasa, Gavin Watson, with seeing to Mokonyane’s Christmas groceries.These allegedly included 120 cases of cold drinks, four cases of high-quality whiskey, 40 cases of beer, eight lambs, 12 cases of frozen chicken pieces, 200kg of beef and cases of premium liquor.

Agrizzi was purported to have been asked to organise funerals, arrange rental vehicles for Mokonyane’s daughter, organise catering for several ANC rallies, provide catering for former president Jacob Zuma’s birthday parties and organise the maintenance of Mokonyane’s houses, all at the minister’s instruction.

Watson, who has since died, allegedly said that Mokonyane was powerful and that if he did not do what she wanted, Bosasa would not have protection in averting possible prosecution.

Mokonyane was also named by former Bosasa employee Frans Vorster, who corroborated elements of Agrizzi’s evidence. In January last year he told the commission: “I was told she [Mokonyane] had important political connections, both in the [former president Thabo] Mbeki era and [that of former president] Jacob Zuma.

“We were instructed to drop everything when it came to Mokonyane … She probably opened doors for Watson because whatever she wanted, we jumped and dropped everything to attend to the minister and her family,” Vorster said.

Vorster alleged he was tasked with arranging a rental car for Mokonyane’s daughter towards the end of 2015. The Audi A3 was meant to be rented for two weeks, but Mokonyane’s daughter allegedly ended up keeping the car for two months, Vorster said. According to Vorster, Bosasa paid for everything, including the excess after the minister’s daughter allegedly damaged the car.

Vorster also told the commission that, in the lead-up to the 2014 national elections, he was asked to prepare an unused area of the Bosasa offices to accommodate an ANC call centre. The firm’s IT department set up computers and phone lines for ANC members to use.

“Minister Mokonyane personally drove that process,” Vorster alleged. 

But in her opening statement on Monday, Mokonyane denied the claims made against her. She alleged inconsistencies in Agrizzi’s evidence, including that he got her late son’s name wrong. Mokonyane also claimed that descriptions of her home were incorrect.

The former minister said Bosasa’s involvement — and that of other private companies — in various ANC campaigns and initiatives “was not a foreign thing”.

She said Agrizzi’s allegations were aimed at discrediting her, adding that his statement before the commission was “very disrespectful, insensitive and undermining — maybe reflecting on his chauvinistic and the self-confessed racist character”.

Mokonyane also suggested her safety and that of her loved ones has been compromised by Agrizzi’s evidence to the commission.

Mokonyane added: “I am here because I have to give my side of the story … I want to come and set the record straight.” 

In February last year, Agrizzi and four others, including Vorster, were arrested by the Hawks on corruption charges.

Later that year, Watson died in a car accident before having an opportunity to refute Agrizzi’s claims at the commission.

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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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