Tragedy of state capture is that it has harmed black entrepreneurs

S'thembiso Msomi Without the Gang
Bosasa chief executive officer Gavin Watson with then president Jacob Zuma at the company's Krugersdorp headquarters in 2015.
Bosasa chief executive officer Gavin Watson with then president Jacob Zuma at the company's Krugersdorp headquarters in 2015.
Image: Twitter

Amid the dizzying maze of explosive information in the Sunday newspapers regarding what former Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi will reveal this week, one particular claim piqued my interest.

According to a story by Sunday Times journalist Bongani Fuzile on what made Agrizzi turn on Bosasa and its chief executive officer Gavin Watson, there was once a proposal for the latter to retire from the post and still pocket R10m a month.

This was at a time when the power struggle between Watson and Agrizzi was threatening to get out of hand following Agrizzi's firing from the company in 2016.

The newspaper reports on a recording of a meeting between Agrizzi, former Bosasa chief financial officer Andries van Tonder and Watson's nephew - Jared Watson. It was at this meeting where Van Tonder proposed that Watson must "retire to Port Elizabeth" - his original hometown - and that for doing so Bosasa would then pay him R10m a month.

Just think about that: A cool R10m a month for staying at home. That works out to R120m per annum, for doing nothing! Who can afford that? Which company do you know can afford to pay R10m a month, for a retired executive nogal?

Perhaps banking institutions, major mining houses and other representatives of "monopoly capital", but certainly none of the black-owned companies that emerged with the end of apartheid. If the bigwigs at Bosasa could even entertain the idea, how much was the company making each month? Mind you, some of its major contracts, from which it makes super-profits, are with government departments.

Herein lies one of the tragedies of state capture and corruption. Whether it is the Guptas, the Watsons or any other family or company, state capture mostly enriches undeserving and already established entities at the expense of emerging black entrepreneurs.

We can complain about "white monopoly capital" as much as we want and bash companies such as the Bidvest Group for having its fingers in almost every pie, however the question remains: How come post-apartheid SA has not produced black companies that can challenge them in terms of scale and impact?

As much as it is true that monopoly capital strangles fair commission and prevents the rise of thriving black enterprises, state capture and corruption - especially in the past decade - have also played key roles in keeping black business on the periphery.

Little has been written about the origins of Bosasa. But according to News24 editor Adriaan Basson, who has followed the story for a decade, it started out in 1996 as Dyambu Holdings - an investment vehicle for a number of then ANC Women's League leaders, who included National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete; defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her cabinet colleague Nomvula Mokonyane.

One of its first major tenders was that of running the Lindela deportation centre west of Johannesburg.

But it was only after Watson, who had been brought in as Dyambu's CEO, bought the company and changed its name to Bosasa Operations that it went on to become the major enterprise it is today.

He was able to grow it due to his proximity to ANC leaders - many of whom he had known during the anti-apartheid Struggle.

His modus operandi appears to have been that of staying in the good books of whatever grouping was in charge of the ANC and government. In the Thabo Mbeki years, he was close to Linda Mti, the Nqakulas and other Mbeki associates. During Zuma's tenure, Bosasa became close to the president himself, the likes of Tom Moyane and ministers like Mokonyane.

As it became clear that Zuma would lose power at the ANC conference in Nasrec, Bosasa donated R500,000 to Ramaphosa'e election campaign.

Those who argue that the state capture investigation is a waste of time and that business influence over government and politicians happens all over the world are missing the point. If we allow the phenomenon to continue, we will never be able to economically transform SA.

Major state contracts would remain with those with very deep pockets as they can afford to buy our politicians with cash and even monthly groceries.

Black entrepreneurs, already locked out of the private sector, would be fighting over crumbs of minor state tenders and continue to be ridiculed and dismissed as "tenderpreneurs".

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