Leaked e-mail: Did Bosasa donate R100k to journo fund?

22 January 2019 - 21:44 By Bongani Fuzile
Top boss of corruption-accused facilities management company Bosasa, Angelo Agrizzi, at the state capture inquiry.
Top boss of corruption-accused facilities management company Bosasa, Angelo Agrizzi, at the state capture inquiry.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Bosasa appears to have donated R100,000 towards a crowdfunding campaign to assist the SABC 8 journalists in 2016, after an e-mail emerged in which a senior official instructs other officials to make the payment.

TimesLIVE has seen a leaked e-mail in which the donation is described as “the best return on investment ever”.  

Two sources close to Bosasa have confirmed that the company paid the money but TimesLIVE had not been able to independently verify whether it had been paid.

The SA National Editors Forum (Sanef) has denied the contents of the e-mail, saying: “neither Sanef nor its executive ever approached Bosasa for donations.” (read its full statement below).

Sources claimed the generous contribution was made after then chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi put “everyone under pressure” to make a “strategic” donation to the cause.

“Trust me this is probably going to be the best ROI (return on investment) we’ve ever had with donations,” he wrote in the e-mail, which is dated July 22 2016, to fellow employees.

Sources said the donation was made a few days later.

One of the SABC 8 Journalists, Foeta Kriege, told TimesLIVE he was not aware the money could have been donated from Bosasa.

“I was not aware of that and the only person you should ask is Adriaan Basson on this. Basson created the crowdfunding. I honestly got no idea where the money was from.”

When approached for comment, News24 editor Adriaan Basson referred TimesLIVE to Sanef.

The SABC 8 comprised of journalists Vuyo Mvoko, Thandeka Gqubule, Suna Venter, Krivani Pillay, Lukhanyo Calata, Foeta Krige, Jacques Steenkamp and Busisiwe Ntuli, who at the time had been suspended by the state broadcaster with no pay for speaking out against censorship of protest footage (read their full statement below).

Sanef said the campaign raised R400,000. The money was shared among the eight journalists.

The campaign was launched by Basson, who was quoted at the time as saying: “It’s been incredibly humbling to see so many people putting their money where their mouths are for our colleagues ... in less than 12 hours we have raised more than R240,000 for these eight brave journalists and friends.”

A senior source at Bosasa, now named African Global, said: “R100,000 had to be paid to assist the journalists. It was a good cause but the pressure was unbearable as I had to return from sick leave to monitor and assist in releasing the money. The money was eventually paid to the cause,” said the employee, who did not want to be named because he had not been authorised to speak to the media.

Another source, formerly with Bosasa, said the money had been paid “under duress”. 

“We had given money to people as other companies will do, but this payment towards journalists was questionable. But we were under pressure to pay. At times it was said it was good for the image of the company.

“The money was not only paid to politicians but to journalists who are today reporting about Bosasa – they got something.”

In September 2018, axed SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng admitted to the Sunday Times that R1.2m of his legal bill incurred over the wrongful dismissal of the eight SABC employees, had been paid by Bosasa. He would not say who had asked chief executive Gavin Watson to come to his aid.

In Agrizzi’s e-mail – which was addressed to then chief accountant Carlos Bonifacio, finance employee Jacques van Zyl and former chief financial officer Andries van Tonder – he writes: “Strategically Andries VT 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. I am not sure what the account details are, I will forward them to you once I’ve found it – please once its processed for immediate payment send me a copy thereof.

“If you are able to get the account details before me – please proceed with the donation of R100,000. I know we are under pressure – trust me this is probably going to be the best ROI [return on investment] we’ve ever had with donations.”

When asked if the company donated any money to the SABC 8’s cause, Papa Leshabane, director of African Global (formerly Bosasa), said they were not ready to comment.

“We are not going to comment right now about this," he told TimesLIVE.

Agrizzi was not reachable for comment.

IN FULL: The SABC 8’s response

The SABC 8 has learnt with dismay and disgust, the attempts to associate us with the Bosasa affair.

Let us outline our cause again:

1. We are anti-corruption. 2. We believe in section 1 (a) of the Constitution of South Africa and thus, consequently, we believe in an independent public broadcaster that is free of corruption. 3. Further, we are professionals, principled and we are reluctant to dignify such patent falsehood.

We have never had any dealings with Bosasa collectively or individually. We do not know who the donors were in the crowdfunding initiative; some identified themselves and some remained anonymous. After the reinstatement of some of us, we decided to share some of the money with people who had causes similar to ours. We continue to support others who fight causes like ours such as those in Burundi, Myanmar and others on the continent and abroad.

It is interesting to note that the same Bosasa that apparently funded us is the same one that paid the legal costs for Hlaudi Motsoeneng, against whom we fought to save a public asset from further capture.

In the end, we remain steadfast and committed and we will not be swayed by the purveyors of fake news and lies. In addition, we note with concern, the rise in fake news against noble journalists. We call upon all truth-loving and democracy-minded South Africans to stand by the profession of journalism.

IN FULL: Sanef's response

The crowdfunding campaign, called “Friends of SABC journalists” was started by SANEF council member Adriaan Basson and was supported by the South African National Editors’ Forum.

It was started in July 2016 for eight of our colleagues at the SABC who were dismissed for standing up for journalistic principles and truth.

These colleagues had families and medical expenses to pay and were left in financial jeopardy at the end of the month. The crowdfunding campaign was started through the US-based platform Givengain.

The campaign called on members of the public to support the SABC8 with their rands and cents and no individual donors were approached.

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 (donors had the option to remain anonymous or state their names).

Two large donations were made, none by Bosasa or any person linked to the Bosasa group.

Sanef nor its executive ever approached Bosasa for donations.

The final amount was paid over to an attorney who distributed it in equal amounts between our eight colleagues.

The SABC 8 were not aware of the donors to the crowd funding campaign.

Editor's Note: Please note that the full comment from the SABC 8 has been added to the updated version of this article.