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Trying to understand Angelo Agrizzi

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HOWARD FELDMAN

This was my expectation when I met Angelo Agrizzi earlier in the week. The state capture inquiry had made him, in some sense, a “loveable rogue”. Until his admission of racism, social media seemed to love him even if he could not escape his involvement with Bosasa.

The fact that he was prepared to give evidence of corruption and details of bribery redeemed him in some way, even if his motives were – and still are – a little unclear.

Agrizzi consented to give one radio interview, and he chose to do so with Chad Thomas of ChaiFm. Chad is an investigator. He is deeply knowledgeable and was an excellent choice in that he is not someone who grand stands. He gives his interviewee the space to say what they need to, but is not afraid to ask tough questions. I resolved to stay away from the studio until my need to understand the man got the better of me. I wanted to observe his body language and shake his hand.

I am pleased that I did so, but following the interview, I was no clearer about who he is than I was after reading the book on Jewish gangsters.

There were a number of moments that stood out for me in the interview. The first was that Agrizzi claimed to be able to sleep very well at night. He seemed to be genuinely relieved to have been a whistleblower, and that no matter what will follow, he is happy that he did it. His frame of mind is better than it was. I didn’t doubt the truth in this.

What confused me, however, was that he seemed to disassociate himself from the corruption, and made a comment even after the interview was over that he never paid bribes. It was important for him that we heard that, and that we understood it.

Agrizzi sees himself, to some extent, as a victim. When asked why it took so long to come forward, his answer was to compare the situation of an abused spouse who suffers for years until they have the courage to leave.

This choice of metaphor is an interesting one, as it assumes no guilt on his part, and suggests that just as we would never blame the victim of abuse, so we should hesitate and consider carefully before blaming him.

It is also interesting to note that the other metaphor Agrizzi used was to compare Bosasa to a cult. He portrayed Gavin Watson as a hands-on, almost fixated leader, and suggested that the religious devotion ahead of each day reinforced his status. Again, victimhood.

Another comment Agrizzi made, one that no doubt speaks to the environment he was in, was that, “Even the pope would have been corrupted”. Whereas I certainly can’t speak for the pope, present or past, I wonder if this is not a reflection on those who worked at Bosasa and the government representatives who associated with them, rather than a reflection of humanity as a whole.

It is perhaps my own naivety that makes me believe that not everyone is open to this level of unrestrained corruption.

Agrizzi had lines he would not cross. He would not go to Nkandla, and he made it clear that he did not like [former President Jacob] Zuma. That said, he confirmed again that Zuma received R300 000 in cash each month through [Dudu] Myeni.

The mind boggles.

Agrizzi is on a few missions. Not only does he want to ensure that he is not seen as the person responsible for the corruption at Bosasa, he wants to encourage others to come forward.

The latter is the correct approach. The more whistleblowers who come forward, the quicker the corruption will be exposed, and the quicker the healing can take place.

No matter what we think, Agrizzi has to be commended for what he has chosen to do. He should be acknowledged for placing himself in the public eye, and in the eye of the authorities. We might find his past unpalatable, but we need to appreciate that he has made a sacrifice that not many of us would. Not even the pope.

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