Good villains: Agrizzi, Sylvester, Jerry and Wile E Coyote

Ideas

Good villains: Agrizzi, Sylvester, Jerry and Wile E Coyote

The former Bosasa chief operations officer is not a hero, but we should root for him anyway

News editor


Growing up, I watched a lot of cartoons. The Looney Tunes stuff was my favourite, Road Runner in particular.
You remember that one, right. That stupid meep-meep bird thing that was constantly foiling Wile E Coyote’s plans and avoiding capture.
There was also Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird, which followed a similar plot line. So did Tom and Jerry, now that I think about it. Old-school cartoons weren’t very different.
In my case – and perhaps this says more about me as a person, a psychologist might say – I always rooted for the villain. I wanted Tom to eat Jerry, for Tweety Bird to be caught and for that stupid Road Runner to become roast dinner. I always rooted for the villain. They were villains, yes, doing the Lord’s work, in my eyes, because they were trying to get rid of the annoying things.
That’s why, as I watched the state capture commission last week, I was rooting for Angelo Agrizzi. As the former Bosasa chief operations officer detailed allegations against his boss, against union leaders, against politicians, and against board chairs, I couldn’t help but hang on his every word. As he detailed staggering amounts of bribery – to the tune of as much as R6m a month – paid in cash, I was riveted.
It was easy to see Agrizzi as the hero. Here he was making allegation after allegation despite apparent threats to his life. Go, Angelo, go!
But in this, it’s easy to miss something important – even as Agrizzi himself made mention of it – that the former Bosasa COO was hands-on involved. He is not the hero of this story. He is the villain. Not the arch-villain, but certainly one of the leading henchman.
And maybe that’s what makes him likeable: because he’s atoning for his wrongs. In a world of people ducking responsibility, he’s owning up. We’ve had a whole former president who’s claimed to want his day in court for a decade but keeps on trying to find (mostly expensive) ways to prevent that happening. We’ve had health MECs who have refused to take responsibility for people dying on their watch.
But here, in a chair in a Parktown, Johannesburg office block, something different was happening. The buck was stopping. Here, Agrizzi was making candid admissions of what he did wrong, and how those around him did the same. He’s spilling the beans. He’s divulging secrets. He’s letting cats out bags. He’s singing like a canary. And for that we are grateful.
Agrizzi is not a hero. He’s like Sylvester, like Jerry and like Wile E Coyote. He’s a villain. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be rooting for him. Hopefully, he’ll bring Tweety Bird, Tom and the Road Runner down with him.

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