OPINION: The greatest show on earth

Former chief operations officer of Bosasa Angelo Agrzzi took the stand and testified in the state capture commission of inquiry in Parktown, Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English/ African News Agency(ANA)

Hugh Jackman’s seven-year project, The Greatest Showman, brings to the silver screen the tale of conflicted genius, Phineas Taylor Barnum, who made his name by presenting to the world, a series of oddities cleverly curated to invoke shock, awe, wonderment, indignation, and even revulsion.

His Barnum’s American Museum at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City, opened in 1841, and rapidly became a lighting rod for societal outrage.

Each new exhibit was more sensational than the last, and Barnum’s American Museum became something of a cause célèbre, as the world watched with delicious anticipation for each fresh sally from PT Barnum.

Irrespective of the reaction to the horrors and delights on offer, visitors were repeatedly drawn back for another look, 38 million people visited the extravaganza between 1941 and 1865, while the population of America in 1860 was 32 million.

The Zondo Commission of inquiry into state capture is little different to PT Barnum’s American Circus, particularly since ex-Bosasa chief operations officer, Angelo Agrizzi, started to deliver testimony.

Much like visitors to Barnum’s American Museum, the nation watches in fascinated horror, agog, as Mr Agrizzi matter-of-factly drops bombshell after bombshell, implicating the likes of Dudu Myeni, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nomvula Mokonyane, past president Jacob Zuma, among others, and by extension, the ANC as a whole, in blatantly illegal activities.

As a nation we are drawn back to sit and watch the tragedy that we have become unfold before our very eyes, as the last remaining vestiges of lustre on our much-vaunted democracy are tarnished, seemingly beyond recovery, by the litany of misdeeds in which those who control the levers of power have engaged.

Quite naturally, as each person is implicated, immediate denials are issued, almost as if vigorous denial will simply be accepted as “the truth”, obviating the need to appear before the commission and to be held to account.

Inasmuch as many visitors to Barnum’s American Museum often felt great sympathy for outlandish human exhibits like the bearded lady, General Tom Thumb, and the giant, it is understandable that Mr Agrizzi might too engender a measure of sympathy from the horrified national audience.

But Mr Agrizzi deserves not a shred of sympathy, because by his own testimony, he actively and knowingly took part in the bribery and corruption allegedly perpetrated by Bosasa CEO, Gavin Watson.

It beggars belief that he should expect any form of sympathy for his belated attack of conscience, which amounts to little other than a desperate attempt at self-preservation.

He is as guilty of corruption as are those he implicates, if what he says came to pass, turns out to be the unvarnished truth.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, President Cyril Ramaphosa has remained silent on the specifics of each revelation, confining his remarks to generalisations about how happy he is with the commission’s work: “… the Zondo Commission is doing its work wonderfully and I can assure you, we’re going to clean up. Clean up is what we’re going to do.

“We need to work to correct what has gone wrong in the past, people who’ve been involved in maleficent [acts] and wrongdoing need to be accountable.”

This must, of course, be read against the background of President Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign war chest having received a cash injection to the tune of R500 000 from Bosasa, apparently without his knowledge or consent.

Whereas President Ramaphosa has undertaken to appear before the commission to “explain” the ANC’s position on the matter of state capture since 1994, one must assume that he will also be expected to answer questions about that awkward R500 000.

This convenient misdirection, this attempted sleight-of-hand, that individual actions cannot be laid at the door of the ANC, feeds the constant refrain from the likes of Zizi Kodwa that “the ANC is not on trial at the Zondo Commission”, when, of course, it really is on trial.

The narrative goes something like this: “The ANC cannot be held accountable for the actions of individuals”, but as political analyst, Aubrey Matshiqi, so eloquently put it the other day on national television: “That’s like saying the mouth cannot be held accountable for something the lips said.”

So, by way of example, Ms Mokonyane allegedly prevailed upon Bosasa to fund ANC election campaign Siyanqoba rallies in Gauteng to the tune of millions of rands, according to Mr Agrizzi.

Mr Kodwa, when asked for the ANC’s response to this allegation, made it quite clear that, if this had indeed happened it had come to pass without the knowledge of, or sanction by, the ANC.

“The ANC cannot be held accountable for what individual members do in their personal capacity. Ms Mokonyane will have to appear before the commission to explain herself.”

Are we to believe that, if indeed Ms Mokonyane did, of her own volition, induce Bosasa to spend millions on ANC campaign rallies in Gauteng, that not a single soul in the ANC leadership knew anything about this “donation”?

If so, then we must also accept that, despite President Donald Trump having been caught out multiple times, through verifiable fact checking, telling dreadful untruths, that, as he asserts, his alternative truth is the new reality.