A group of journalists were allegedly on Bosasa’s bribe payroll, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Thursday.
During the seventh day of his testimony, former Bosasa Chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi alleged that Papa Leshabane, the company’s spokesperson, distributed R71 000 in cash to journalists.
This revelation emerged when Agrizzi was asked to take the commission through his black book, which contains coded names and amounts allegedly paid to numerous government, labour union and company officials.
Agrizzi previously told the commission Bosasa’s business interests were facilitated by the ubiquitous bribing of officials with large sums of cash, allegedly kept in vaults at the company’s offices.
When asked by the commission’s chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, why these journalists were paid by Leshabane, Agrizzi simply said that they were paid for information and to “write good stories about Bosasa”.
The journalists have yet to be named.
This week doubt was cast on the media’s reporting on the Bosasa scandal after allegations emerged that the company made a large donation to the group of journalists — known as the SABC 8 — who were suspended in 2016 for speaking out about censorship at the public broadcaster.
According to a leaked email allegedly sent by Agrizzi to Bosasa chief accountant Carlos Bonifacio, finance employee Jacques van Zyl and former chief financial officer Andries van Tonder, instructions were given for the “strategic” donation to be made to the fund.
A crowdfunding campaign was set up to help the group financially after they were suspended by then chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
The fund, called “Friends of SABC journalists” was set up by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) treasurer Adriaan Basson and was supported by Sanef.
Basson’s exposés of the alleged fraud and corruption at Bosasa are widely recognised. On Tuesday, Agrizzi corroborated a 2009 Mail & Guardian report written by Basson, saying that it was the most accurate article he had read about Bosasa.
Times Live reported that the email dated July 22 2016 read: “Strategically Andries has come up with a brilliant idea to sponsor the journalist fund that was started to assist the SABC journalists who were fired — Bosasa will contribute an amount of R100 000 … Trust me this is probably going to be the best ROI [return on investment] we’ve ever had with donations.”
The SABC 8 say they were not aware of who made donations to the fund, but Sanef confirmed in a statement that no donations were made by Bosasa. “We have had the opportunity to go through every one of the 394 donations made in July 2016 to the cause and could not find any donation from Bosasa and/or a person connected to Bosasa or a donation for R100 000.”
According to Sanef, donations were made mostly by members of the public.
“The campaign called on members of the public to support the SABC 8 with their rands and cents and no individual donors were approached,” the statement said.
“South Africans opened their hearts and wallets and we managed to raise almost R400 000 from individual donations. Most of the donations were small amounts made by hundreds of supporters of the cause,” Sanef said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
Agrizzi has confirmed that Motsoeneng’s legal fees were paid by Bosasa.