Angelo Agrizzi’s capitalist capture

As more dirt is dished on the sleazy deals between Bosasa and government, Agrizzi reveals the rapacious heart of corruption.

Angelo Agrizzi’s shiny yellow suit and tie, worn on the second day of his testimony at the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in Johannesburg, were apt – the former Bosasa chief operations officer has been singing like a canary.

During his ongoing testimony Agrizzi has hit the high notes: Bosasa were allegedly paying out between R4 million and R6 million a month to politicians, government officials, journalists and their own employees to buy people’s influence or silence while ensuring government contracts continued to roll in.

When the Special Investigative Unit was circling the company in 2008, more than 4 000 incriminating computer folders were allegedly destroyed. A server crash was faked. Agrizzi also personally ensured three computers detailing backhander trips for Bosasa’s coterie of the corrupt was thrown into a hole on a construction site, doused with petrol and set alight.

His sleazy revelations also recounted cash drops conducted on lonely roads, at petrol stations, politicians’ homes – including the official residence of then-Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane – and restaurants around Gauteng. In the case of a R300 000 payment allegedly meant for former president Jacob Zuma, the money was apparently stuffed into a Louis Vuitton bag for Msholozi’s own bag lady, former South African Airways chairperson Dudu Myeni, to pick up. Money from Zimbabwe was being laundered alongside various multimillion-rand fake invoicing schemes and the abuse of an employee death benefit scheme.

Evoking gangland

It didn’t get any more gangster than when Agrizzi told the commission that during the time he was feeling the itch to leave Bosasa he was invited to a restaurant by the company’s chief executive, Gavin Watson, and introduced to controversial cop Nkosana “Killer” Ximba. Ximba then introduced Agrizzi to a chrome Colt 45 with what sounds like an ivory handle. The veracity of Agrizzi’s evidence will be tested by cross examination and further forensic research by the commission’s investigative team.

During his testimony, Agrizzi has remained adamant that his motives for blowing the whistle are about ensuring a clean government and the “future of our children” in a corruption-free South Africa. He talked about having a “crisis of conscience” after emerging from a coma a few years ago. In many instances he has been sanctimonious about Watson’s propensity for corruption – which he admits to aiding and abetting.

It is difficult to ignore the 17 years Agrizzi spent at Bosasa as Watson’s “right-hand man” – and “bag man” – dropping off bricks of cash, rushing off to design a cake for former president Jacob Zuma’s 72nd birthday and schmoozing the politically connected.

In that time Agrizzi’s annual salary (and that of his wife, who, for tax purposes, received the majority of his earnings for a large part of his employment at Bosasa as marketing head and chief operations officer) rose from R692 000 (including benefits and extra cash payments) and a holiday to Mauritius in 1999 to almost R4.7 million plus a trip to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2016. In 2017 he received, together with his wife, almost R50 million from Bosasa in terms of the retention and separation agreements they reached with the company.

Going beyond the Guptas

Agrizzi is brave for revealing the extent of state capture outside a narrative obsession with the Gupta family. The truth, as evidenced by his testimony, is that corporate debauching of South Africa’s state and its transparent functioning is pervasive and heavily intertwined with the internal factional power struggles of the incumbent ANC.

It is also how government does business, and business does government, it would appear. Agrizzi’s testimony already marks a seminal moment in the work of the Zondo commission, and if his testimony convinces others to come forward, it will ensure a more rigorous clean-up of our country. The testimony has certainly opened a crack for ordinary, hardworking and honest South Africans to peer into so as to understand the full extent of corruption in this country.

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The facilities management company’s grease jockeys allegedly included former president Jacob Zuma (on R300 000 per month), current environment minister Nomvula Mokonyane (R50 000 per month), former chairperson of parliament’s portfolio committee on correctional services Vincent Smith (R100 000 per month), prison officials including former commissioner Linda Mti and the department’s former chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham (the latter two are the alleged main backhander buddies in Bosasa’s multibillion-rand prison contracts), the head of security at Airports Company South Africa Reuben Pillay and on and on…

Agrizzi’s allegations exposed the venal, grasping nature of South Africa’s political elite. Gillingham demanded a matric dance dress for his daughter. Mokonyane’s daughter got a high-end German sports car, which she kept crashing, causing an exasperated Agrizzi to call her in and request that she go for additional driving lessons.

Groceries and booze were dished out for rallies, parties and funerals. Likewise security upgrades at people’s homes.

Paradoxical witness

Yet, Agrizzi remains a peculiar witness. He comes across as a not particularly likeable person. His time in the witness stand reveals someone who is used to being listened to and obeyed. Sometimes during testimony, he becomes visibly irritated in having to explain, step by step, the logistics of corruption, which he finds obvious, but which the legal process requires him to spell out. There is an odious air about the overweight man. His face seems to have a heavy-lidded sneer about it. The corners of his mouth are always downturned.

Agrizzi’s sense of criminality also appears warped. During a particular passage of evidence led by Advocate Paul Pretorius, Agrizzi described a meeting with Smith. Describing the drop-off at a mall, Agrizzi told the commission how the R100 000 in hard cash was delivered wrapped up in a newspaper that Smith would then scoop into a deep pocket of a leather jacket.

Agrizzi told the commission that he wouldn’t take the grey security bags the cash was packaged in or his briefcase to such meetings because “nine times out of 10 I would have been robbed” – the suggestion being that South Africa is a crime-infested country but that there was a distinction, in Agrizzi’s mind, between what he was doing and your common or garden variety robbery.

At times during his testimony there is an unmistakable sense that Agrizzi’s conception of corruption is that it is something perpetrated by politicians – black, and members of the ANC. He appears oblivious to all the white men at Bosasa, including himself, and in various other companies with which they colluded, who were handmaidens to this pillaging of the state. And he has named a lot of them.

Italian South African hypocrisy

Agrizzi is of Italian descent, something he is proud of, once apologising to Zondo for knocking the microphone with his hands because, he says, “I am Italian. I speak with my hands.” On his website, he considers himself similar to the knight chess piece, which “moves in an unusual and interesting way”, and revels in his association with and collection of Ferraris, the Italian sports car with its prancing horse insignia.

He once joked that Bosasa’s corruption was so insidious “even the Pope” would have been corrupted. But the style of talk – of people being “handled” or “disposed of” but “not in the mafia Don sense”  – the blasé familiarity with which he uses and describes million-rand piles of cash and the manner in which he can count these quickly by identifying the number of elastic bands tying wads together doesn’t come from his Italian heritage or some glib reference to the mafia, but, rather, are characteristically South African, a reality for which he is partially responsible.

The testimony by Agrizzi has shown up many other contradictions and hypocrisies in the way that corporate South Africa practises corruption. Agrizzi told the commission of the born-again Christian sensibilities of the company, which had weekly prayer meetings early in the morning that sometimes lasted close to two hours. Divine guidance for profiteering and pillaging was apparently sought by the people within an organisation Agrizzi described as a “cult”.

Part of “belonging” to the cult involved subscribing to a certain corporate identity. According to Agrizzi, Bosasa’s uniform included people wearing “French blue” formal shirts with ties. This is is similar to companies such as Lonmin, where a 2012 wildcat strike led to the company’s “toxic collusion” with police and politicians that ultimately left 34 striking Lonmin miners dead after a police massacre at Marikana.

Corporate Brownshirts

At Lonmin, everyone, from the chief executive down to the pen-pusher responsible for addressing desperate job seekers outside the company’s main offices, would wear checked shirts and chinos. These are the Brownshirts and Blackshirts of late capitalism. Corrupt white male capitalists retain a conservative and red-neck-rapacious perspective of South Africa, despite their proximity to black former freedom fighters.

It is this disregard for South Africa’s constitutional democracy – by anti-black black politicians and anti-black pale males – that is at the heart of the Bosasa and Gupta scandals. And hundreds of other cases of capture and corruption at municipal, provincial and national levels of government.

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