No free pass for Agrizzi

 

26 July 2020

Journalism, commission dropped proverbial ball

The woman considered a centre piece of the State Capture project looked Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo in the eye as she testified this week, got done in a day, and it’s all quiet days later. Why?

Are South Africans any wiser about the State Capture enterprise than they were before Nomvula Mokonyane took the microphone and, perhaps, like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela testifying before Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, denied everything she was accused of.


The truth, sometimes, is unknown and unknowable. Angelo Agrizzi had the nation enthralled for almost two weeks on the stand before Zondo. He “revealed” eye-popping details of grand corruption involving Mokonyane and other leading lights of our nation.

He stated that she received R50 000 monthly cash allowance from the Watson family in return for her influence, especially around the criminal justice system. More specifically, Mokonyane was a key asset to influence the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) so it doesn’t prosecute the family. Agrizzi also told us that frozen chicken pieces were delivered to Mokonyane along with alcohol every December. There are a few people, who, like Agrizzi, curiously happened to be in trouble or out of favour with the Watsons, who corroborated his evidence.

The fundamental flaw evident from the beginning is that there is no undisputable, rock-solid evidence provided. There is no video, audio, photograph, encrypted fax – or something verifiable. All it was ever going to take is a simple denial, which has now come. So what now? Who must Zondo believe? Based on what?

Agrizzi contradicted himself on the stand. Mokonyane, he told us, was paid to influence the NPA in Bosasa’s favour. He later said Bosasa was frustrated that she never did. Mokonyane has now told the commission that not only has she never came through on this, she has also
neither spoke to Nomgcobo Jiba, the intended target in the NPA, nor was she asked to. The reason the media is quiet following Mokonyane’s testimony is because no one wants to throw the rule book back to Agrizzi: he who makes the claim must provide the evidence.

That Agrizzi simply says someone is corrupt does not make that person corrupt. Even if they are, the criminal justice system needs much more than his words. After all, this guy is a self-confessed criminal. And a racist too. If Bosasa bribed people for tenders, and he was its head of operations, he is the mastermind – isn’t he?

About frozen chicken, we really believe what we want about people. If Mokonyane is really corrupt, it means she has more money than a minister would – and ministers are paid really well. If Agrizzi was delivering salmon weekly, I would understand. Frozen chicken? For a corrupt minister and her spoilt children?

The logic escapes me. Even I as a lowly paid journalist would take offence.
Perhaps she asked for a donation for the ANC rank and file – but even then, evidence is required. Quite apart from that, the bigger problem facing not just the commission, but all of us is to be found in this quote by Galileo Galilei: “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”

Both the commission and journalism, broadly, dropped the ball. There was excitement about the fact that someone has come out with “very serious” accusations of bribery against a senior cabinet member. And sadly, for us all, that was enough. It’s easy to fabricate corroboration when there is a group of similarly disaffected people.

The reporting of unsubstantiated claims was enabled by the very existence of the commission. If Agrizzi went to a self-respecting newspaper with the claims, he would have had to provide evidence before they are published. We can’t all be caught up in his hyperbole. We must worry about the truth. We must obsess about evidence-based reporting.

And, sadly, journalists don’t always do. Very recently, you will recall, EFF president Julius Malema challenged journalists who have reported extensively on his purported links to VBS looting to a live debate. This included Pauli van Wyk of the Daily Maverick, who Malema felt was his chief accuser. His challenge to journalists was clear – bring your evidence.

As the media conference played itself out, it was clear that none was forthcoming. No killer punch. Friedrich Engels words rang true: “There are no facts, just interpretations.” The point is that Malema could make the challenge to all and any reporters because he knew none had the facts. Such a challenge is not to be accepted without evidence. Otherwise what’s the point?

So, it seems, we get carried away by what seems like the truth. What smells like the truth. What sounds like the truth. Mokonyane may well be as corrupt as Agrizzi says, she may even consider
frozen chicken her favourite. In the event she is, she must never be spared. A requirement though for this is that Agrizzi needs to return and spare us the tear-jerking hokum and a belated sanctimonious conviction to fight corruption and provide evidence to back up his claims.

A failure to do this means that Agrizzi used half-baked truths to avoid justice for his own corrupt operations at Bosasa. If he is not prosecuted, if Zondo gives him immunity, a very wrong message will be sent to society that the law is indeed an ass and that when you are white, all you need to do is create a veneer of truth about some grand corruption involving a political party you know is corrupt and malign a minister out of favour with current leadership – and Bob is your uncle. Agrizzi must back up his truth or go to jail.

 

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