Dudu Myeni, a close friend of former president Jacob Zuma and chairperson of his charitable foundation, was a vital cog in controversial facilities manager Bosasa's alleged government-wide network of corruption and bribery.
According to Angelo Agrizzi, a former Bosasa executive, she was the conduit through which a monthly payment was made to Zuma when he was head of state. She also gave Agrizzi and Bosasa's chief executive, Gavin Watson, access to confidential documents from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) detailing authorities' investigation into the company. And, according to Agrizzi, it was important to keep Myeni on their side because "she could swing deals".
This and other dramatic allegations were made as part of Agrizzi's testimony to the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday. It was Agrizzi's eighth day on the witness stand. His testimony has thus fair given deep insight into the Bosasa operation, how it seemingly bribed senior government officials, including ministers, and how it lavished money and gifts on them while receiving lucrative tenders in return.
Myeni has maintained a close friendship with Zuma over the years and has even been linked romantically to the former president. She was appointed as chairperson of the SAA board by Cabinet under Zuma and has been an omnipresent figure in revelations about state capture involving SAA, Eskom and Bosasa. Last year, Pravin Gordhan testified how Zuma called him shortly after he became finance minister in 2015, requesting him to "do what Dudu wants" in relation to a controversial SAA deal with Airbus. He refused.
On Monday, Agrizzi told chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that he met Myeni for the first time in the company of Watson, who was "quite open" about the fact that he was paying Myeni R300 000 monthly. This money was supposed to be forwarded to the Zuma foundation. The money "was always packed in cash and delivered personally".
Watson seemingly pampered Myeni because he thought she was one of Bosasa's main assets and wanted to impress her with a suitable gift. "People knew Myeni was close to the president, she could call the shots, that she was - she is - powerful... she could swing deals," Agrizzi said and later added: "Because we had Myeni on our side we wielded the whip... she made Watson feel bulletproof."
Acting on advice from Agrizzi's wife, Watson bought a Louis Vuitton handbag and stuffed it with R300 000 in cash, which he then delivered to her. Agrizzi testified that she thanked him for the adorned handbag and that she was "over the moon". The bag apparently "made quite a statement" according to Agrizzi.
Requests from Zuma were made through Myeni, who often asked Agrizzi and Bosasa to arrange social functions for the president. Agrizzi read a letter from Myeni thanking him for organising a family gathering on short notice, with the family enjoying a good time with Zuma.
"The chef's relativity and professionalism was commended by everybody," Myeni gushed. The company allegedly spent in the region of R3.4m annually in entertainment on Myeni and Zuma.
But Watson was concerned that Myeni took "a haircut" out of the payments meant for Zuma, and during a meeting at Nkandla (to enlist the president's support for a fracking project in the Karoo) asked him whether he was getting all the money from Myeni. Zuma apparently answered "yes" after Watson put down a bag with cash next to the then-president. Agrizzi told Zondo he does not believe the Zuma foundation got any money from Watson via Myeni. "You can sugarcoat a bribe all you want," he added.
It was during the same meeting where Watson "instructed" Zuma to quash the Hawks' investigation into Bosasa, and according to Agrizzi he agreed to look into the matter. "Watson called Zuma a 'wonderful' and 'phenomenal' president," Agrizzi said.
Myeni denied that she met Watson and called Agrizzi a "bitter racist" who is "anti-black" and "anti-women", broadcaster eNCA reported. She also denied that she received a Louis Vuitton handbag or money from Bosasa. Zuma has not responded to the allegations.
Earlier on Monday, Agrizzi also revealed the names of three "journalists" who were bribed to write positive stories about Bosasa.
One, Pinky Khoabane, was a columnist for the Sunday Times, while two others, one "Bongs" from the Eastern Cape and a "Ntuli" who allegedly wrote for The Star or the Sunday Times, were also named. Their exact identities however remain unclear.
Two media strategists - Benedicta Dube and Stephen Laufer - were also fingered as Bosasa contractors paid to help target journalists.
Khoabane and Laufer have both denied the allegations.
Testimony continues at 10:00 on Tuesday.