Character Bosasa-nation: how Watson cosied up to JZ, Mantashe and more
From a cash-stuffed handbag to parties, monthly payments and groceries, this is how Bosasa lured the ANC, says Zondo
Controversial state contractor Bosasa would stop at nothing, and nobody, to get its hands on billions of rand in state contracts.
Using its deep pockets, it paid for groceries, updated homes, funded foundations and even stuffed luxury handbags with cash to score influence with those in or close to the corridors of power.
This is laid bare in the third part state of the capture commission report, which was handed over to the presidency on Tuesday. The nearly 1,000-page document, in four volumes, deals only with Bosasa.
But it is also another seemingly damning blow for ex-president Jacob Zuma and those close to him. As more reports are released, so the pressure ramps up and the picture of Zuma’s hand in state capture is seemingly more clearly painted.
The report also takes aim at other players. With Bosasa at the centre, it deals with apparent quid pro quo payments to the ANC and some of its members, including one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet members, minerals and energy minister Gwede Mantashe. Former minister Nomvula “Mama Action” Mokonyane isn’t spared; nor is the chair of the Jacob G Zuma Foundation and known ally, former SAA board chair Dudu Myeni.
In fact, commission chair Raymond Zondo recommends in the report that authorities investigate all of these individuals and more, saying there is “prima facie” evidence that they breached, in different, yet similar ways, the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (PRECCA).
Regarding Zuma, Zondo found he “accepted gratification” from Bosasa, a company which “held and sought to obtain contracts with government”.
In the report’s recommendations, Zondo says there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Zuma’s conduct was in breach of his obligations as president under the constitution, in breach of his obligations under the Executive Ethics Code and in breach of legislation”.
While there is “no evidence to suggest direct facilitation” by Zuma of the unlawful award of any tenders, there is evidence that the former president was instrumental in supplying information to the company relating to an investigation against it, an investigation which was, ultimately, canned.
“It follows ineluctably from the foregoing analysis that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Zuma provided the facilitation in order to benefit a corporate entity doing business with government and organs of state, namely Bosasa, and to benefit himself and his foundation as the recipients of Bosasa’s material and monetary largesse,” Zondo writes.
Former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi told the Zondo commission that his boss, Gavin Watson, had former president Jacob Zuma in his pocket. Agrizzi said Watson had the type of relationship with Zuma in whcih he could tell him what to do.
Zondo says Zuma could have dismissed these claims and allegations, but refused to testify.
“He has not presented evidence before the commission. The consequence of his stance is that the evidence before the commission implicating him remains undisputed, except the evidence he was able to dispute when he gave evidence in July 2019,” he writes at the start of his recommendations regarding Zuma.
It follows ineluctably from the foregoing analysis that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Zuma provided the facilitation in order to benefit a corporate entity doing business with government and organs of state, namely Bosasa, and to benefit himself and his foundation as the recipients of Bosasa's material and monetary largesse.Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo
Later on, Zondo continues the thread, saying: “Mr Zuma had every opportunity to come forward and dispute the evidence. He elected not to.”
Even without clear and direct facilitation of contracts, what is clear, Zondo writes, is that the “nature of the relationship” between Zuma and Bosasa put the former president “in a conflict of interest situation”.
Zondo says Zuma should be referred to the relevant authorities for further investigation “on the basis that there is a reasonable prospect that such further investigation will uncover a prima facie case in terms of ... PRECCA”.
Bosasa couldn’t allow the ANC to fail
Apart from Zuma, the report also takes aim at Bosasa’s relationship with the ruling ANC. So crucial was this relationship to the company that if the ANC were removed from power, Bosasa could go belly-up.
This is why, Zondo says, the controversial state contractor gave money and its own office space for the party’s election “war room”.
Bosasa’s substantial donations to the ANC feature prominently in the report, in particular the election “war room” the company gave the party at no cost, but at a cost of “millions”, according to whistle-blower Angelo Agrizzi, Bosasa’s former COO.
“Mr Agrizzi may have exaggerated the expenditure, but it is clear from the sophistication of the equipment and facilities, and the time period over which they were provided (three months in respect of the 2014 elections and two months in respect of the Mangaung conference), that the value was substantial,” the report reads.
It continues: “The question from the perspective of Bosasa and its directors is whether they sought through the provision of the ‘war room’ facilities to the ANC at no charge, indirectly to influence the public office bearers, functionaries and employees ... There is no evidence to suggest that the provision of the facilities was a bona fide contribution by Mr Watson [Bosasa boss Gavin Watson] personally, based on his long-standing relationship with the ANC.
“Instead the evidence is that it was provided by Bosasa as a business organisation at its office park, at the instance of its directors ... Moreover, the evidence of Mr Watson’s abuse of his ANC connections for his own ends shows on the probabilities that this was not so.
“Bosasa was a business organisation that was heavily invested in securing tenders from government departments and organs of state. Against the backdrop of all the evidence received by the commission in connection with Bosasa, and the extent to which its business model was based on its ability to influence public office bearers, one need merely consider the potentially catastrophic consequences for Bosasa if the ANC were to be voted out of power, to understand how important the provision of the ‘war room’ facilities to the ANC was, in order for Bosasa to be able to achieve its business objectives.”
The report goes one step further, saying the evidence, based on Bosasa’s “corrupt modus operandi”, shows it donated towards the war rooms so:
- “The ANC would remain the majority party and thus in a position to appoint to positions of public office persons whom Bosasa was able to influence or would seek to influence”; and
- “Members of the ANC deployed to senior positions in state institutions, organs of state and SOEs would remain well-disposed towards Bosasa in its business dealings, which included tendering for and retaining contracts with such state institutions.”
Zondo notes that during Ramaphosa’s testimony it was acknowledged there was a “major lapse” on the part of the ANC in accepting this assistance from Bosasa.
“President Ramaphosa also appropriately conceded that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion on the facts that the ANC received this and other forms of assistance from Bosasa, in breach of its rule that it would not knowingly receive donations from donors involved in criminal activities; and while key ANC officials, including the president of the time, must have been aware of the earlier serious allegations of corruption against Bosasa,” the report reads.
Mantashe and Mokonyane in the crosshairs
Turning his attention elsewhere, Zondo says if they were to look hard enough, they would likely find evidence that Mantashe was corrupt in dealing with Bosasa, which controversially paid for upgrades to his homes.
Mantashe was ANC secretary-general at the time, which Zondo notes was a powerful position, given he was at the helm of the country’s ruling party and was, therefore, close to the decision-making levers of power.
This proximity lines up with Bosasa’s tactic of funding the ruling party and cosying up to those who had party and government influence.
Zondo remarks that Bosasa was “heavily invested in securing tenders from particular government departments and organs of state”.
“It sought to be able, through Mr Mantashe and the inducements and gain provided to him, to influence the leadership of those departments and organs of state, a leadership drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of the ANC and falling within the categories of public office bearers.”
As a result, Mantashe should be investigated in terms of PRECCA.
He adds that there is “reasonable suspicion” that Mantashe received the free installations for his homes knowing this was done to seek, through him, influence in terms of the departments Bosasa did, or sought to do, business with.
Zondo also calls for the criminal prosecution of disgraced former minister and ANC stalwart Mokonyane. Much like in Mantashe’s case, the report says there is “prima facie evidence” of corruption likely to be uncovered by law-enforcement authorities if they probe her.
“Such further investigation will uncover a prima facie case of PRECCA, which deals with corrupt activities relating to witnesses and evidential material during certain proceedings,” the report reads.
Zondo’s findings regarding how Watson and Bosasa, among other things, paid for Mokonyane’s 40th birthday party and spent thousands of rand buying her and her family groceries for Christmas, were that these were gifts designed to win favour in securing multibillion-rand contracts.
According to Zondo, there were “clearly extensive attempts” to influence Mokonyane.
The state capture inquiry heard on February 5 2019 how one man provided controversial prison facilities company Bosasa with millions in cash that was allegedly used to pay off politicians and senior government officials. Gregory Lawrence shot two videos on his cellphone showing boxes with bundles of cash being handed over to a Bosasa staff member at the company’s offices.
Myeni and the cash-stuffed handbag
When it comes to Zuma’s ally Myeni, Zondo found she was used as a way to get the company close to the former president.
There were “attempts made through inducements and gain to influence both her, as chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation or as someone close to Mr Zuma and director of an SOE and, through her, Mr Zuma”, Zondo said.
“Much of the evidence against Ms Myeni remains unchallenged, given her refusal to answer most questions on the basis that she might incriminate herself,” Zondo says.
Among these attempts were the “regular” payments of R300,000 in cash for the benefit of the foundation, as well as upgrades to the security at Myeni’s home in Richards Bay, on the KZN north coast.
A luxury, cash-stuffed handbag also plays a central role.
“Mr Agrizzi testified that he and Mr Watson purchased a Louis Vuitton handbag for Ms Myeni. The handbag was delivered to the Bosasa offices and filled with R300,000 in cash by Mr Watson. Although Ms Myeni denied being in possession of a Louis Vuitton handbag which was filled with cash to the amount of R300,000, this was nothing more than a bare denial. She later refused to answer any further questions on the issue on the basis that she might incriminate herself,” Zondo writes.
He states that “it must be accepted” that Myeni did not directly benefit from the R300,000 payments to the foundation nor from the company’s spending on Zuma’s birthday parties, but these would “certainly have boosted her position” as foundation chair.
Zondo says there is “a prima facie case of corruption against Ms Myeni” ... in line with PRECCA.
“The matter is referred to the appropriate authorities for further investigation and prosecution of Ms Myeni accordingly,” he writes.