The testimony of ANC MP and House Chairperson of Committees in the National Assembly, Cedric Frolick, at the State Capture inquiry on Friday 2 October 2020 was beset with memory lapses. And his evidence peppered with disclaimers.
Frolick committed to a version insofar as he could recall and emphasised he replied according to his memory.
In fairness, evidence leader advocate Viwe Notshe SC was questioning Frolick on events that happened several years ago.
“We must keep in mind that the incidents that happened here happened in 2010,” said Frolick of a specific meeting at Bosasa premises, adding that various events under scrutiny were no longer fresh in his mind.
Frolick, who stands accused of receiving tens of thousands of rands in cash bribes, began the day’s sitting describing his longstanding ties to the Watsons.
“They are good friends of mine,” he said of the surviving Watson brothers. Frolick reflected the family’s stance in the wake of their eldest brother’s death on Monday 26 August 2019.
“As a family, they are very upset that their brother Mr Gavin Watson died under mysterious circumstances and they have a particular view,” said Frolick.
Frolick testified that Valence Watson “gets angry, he’s very upset and he gets agitated at the allegations Mr [Angelo] Agrizzi is making”.
Frolick disputed the evidence of former Bosasa COO Agrizzi, who claimed Frolick received a R40,000 monthly retainer from the company. Agrizzi claimed he personally packed cash bribes.
He swore he witnessed Frolick receiving payments, including from charismatic tenderpreneur Gavin Watson at Bosasa premises in 2010, and from Valence Watson at a plush home in the Eastern Cape.
Frolick dismissed Agrizzi’s claims as baseless and lacking substance. Surely, said Frolick, if he was regularly paid there would be some record of the transactions. In some instances, Agrizzi’s averments excluded precise details of date, time and venue.
Agrizzi testified that in 2010 then Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Sport and Recreation, Butana Komphela, and Frolick visited Bosasa’s business park. On his version: Agrizzi, Frolick, Komphela and Watson sat in a boardroom, and the purpose of the meeting was to further Bosasa’s business interests, including tackling Bosasa’s troubles in light of bad press.
In 2009 the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) recommended prosecutions in relation to various fraudulent prisons contracts Bosasa won with the government.
Negative reportage on Bosasa continued into the following year. Prosecutions were not forthcoming. Till today, no one has been convicted in connection with Bosasa’s shady deals.
While Frolick agreed that a 2010 meeting at Bosasa’s site occurred, he challenged Agrizzi’s version of its purpose. According to Frolick, Komphela was invited to Bosasa to discuss the company’s interest in sports for at-risk youngsters.
Loosely speaking, this fell into Komphela’s area of interest as head of the Sports Committee in Parliament. Frolick said it was common for politicians to receive such invitations and he was accompanying his friend, Komphela.
What a coincidence that the meeting just so happened to be with Gavin Watson, a member of a family with which Frolick says he remains close to this day.
Agrizzi rubbished Frolick’s version of the meeting, which included an expected viewing of a sports facility. He recorded Bosasa’s premises were paved (seemingly, the point being that there was no sports green) and there was no sports facility for youngsters on site.
Frolick and Komphela reportedly asked about the sports facility and were informed it was not yet ready for viewing. He said a tour of the premises did not occur, as it would have taken four hours, Komphela had mobility problems and he needed to return to Bloemfontein.
The chairperson of the inquiry, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, remarked on the time taken, and distance travelled by Frolick and Komphela. Zondo was struck that after all that effort in order to go to Bosasa’s business park, the two guests did not see what they came to view (namely, the sports facility for youngsters).
Agrizzi claimed that the purpose of the meeting was to address Bosasa’s problems in Parliament. He testified Watson paid Frolick a bribe during the visit. Agrizzi claimed that Frolick and Watson moved to one side and that the CEO handed the politician a wad of cash.
“No, I didn’t receive any money,” countered Frolick. “I had no side discussions with Mr Gavin Watson. There was no need to have side discussions with anyone.” It was a short engagement, as far as Frolick could recall.
“Chairperson, as far as my recollection goes, Mr Watson was there inside the discussion we were having,” said Frolick.
Notshe asked, “And did you see his vault?”
Frolick replied, “No.”
When asked if Watson momentarily left the meeting, Frolick answered, “It is beyond my recollection.” According to Frolick, Komphela remained seated in the boardroom throughout the 2010 meeting. Had Watson paid him (and Frolick testified Watson did not do so), Komphela would have witnessed the exchange.
Frolick attached a confirmatory affidavit from Komphela corroborating his version of the 2010 meeting.
Elsewhere in his testimony, Agrizzi claimed he handed a pack of cash to Valence Watson, who then paid it to Frolick. All this, alleged Agrizzi, occurred in Valence Watson’s home. He listed features in the house, including a gym, brown leather lounge suite and Persian carpets.
Frolick testified that he visited Valence Watson’s home many times, but that he had never seen the gym. He confirmed a brown leather lounge suite and carpets, but could not say whether or not they were Persian. He insisted Valence Watson paid him no money, as alleged by Agrizzi.
Notshe asked Frolick why he did not obtain a confirmatory affidavit from Valence Watson when he obtained one from Komphela. “I did not ask,” said Frolick.
Elsewhere, Frolick recorded he received two shirts, two pairs of shoes and a belt from Valence Watson for a birthday, asserting he declared the gifts to Parliament. Frolick also disclosed he received a desktop computer on behalf of his Eastern Cape constituency.
After a brief comfort break adjournment of 10 minutes at lunchtime, Notshe presented Frolick with a log of phone calls, reflecting various conversations between him and Watson.
During March 2017, a few calls occurred between then Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane and Frolick (including missed calls and calls which went to voicemail).
Bosasa sponsored Mokonyane’s 40th birthday party at a Krugersdorp guest house. She denied Bosasa paid for any birthday of hers, and dismissed testimony alleging she and her family members received kickbacks, such as Christmas hampers and an alleged R50,000 monthly stipend.
The call log Notshe presented listed calls between Frolick and Bosasa seniors Johannes Gumede and Papa Leshabane. “I’ve known Papa for a long time,” said Frolick. He reported they met at a Watson funeral in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
“There seem to be quite frequent calls between you and Mr [Vincent] Smith,” remarked Zondo. Frolick confirmed. A day before Frolick’s testimony, Smith appeared in court on one charge of corruption and one charge of fraud.
Smith stands accused of receiving benefits from Bosasa worth just over R180,000. Smith pleaded not guilty on both counts and was released on bail of R30,000. According to Agrizzi, Smith (who was previously head of the prisons committee in Parliament) was initially hostile towards Bosasa. In 2010, the company’s top brass developed a strategy to win him over.
Smith led the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services at a critical juncture, particularly after the release of the 2009 SIU report proving Bosasa’s lawbreaking.
“I was never part of Bosasa,” asserted Frolick. He testified that Bosasa’s CEO, Gavin Watson, often complained to him about difficulties in winning contracts.
“He would continuously say that he is getting a raw deal in his business operations and he doesn’t know why,” remembered Frolick.
When Watson raised issues about Bosasa’s troubles, Frolick claimed he would stop his friend. “I can’t assist you with that. I can give you an opinion […] as a friend, I can advise you,” Frolick said he would tell Watson.
Frolick insisted he would deflect any discussion initiated by Watson on Bosasa’s troubles, but he did encourage Smith to meet the representatives and hear them.
Here Agrizzi and Frolick agree: the plan to dispatch Frolick as peacemaker arose during the 2010 meeting in a Bosasa boardroom.
“Mr Komphela said that Mr Smith is a very stubborn person and since I know him better maybe I should discuss the issue with him as far as a possible visit is concerned, so they can deal with their matters as far as the attempts that they have made in the past to make submissions to have [a] meeting that proved to be fruitless,” explained Frolick.
“It is from that point of view that I approached Mr Smith and asked him if he would participate or want to be part of such a meeting.”
Frolick told Zondo he encouraged Smith “just to give them a hearing” and from this point onwards Smith’s frostiness towards Bosasa began to thaw.
“Just listen to what they have to say. You don’t need to work with them. You don’t need to agree with them,” Frolick said he told Smith.
Zondo noted Bosasa was in a stalemate following the SIU report. Winning over the head of the committee with sight over prison contracts would prove essential for Bosasa’s survival.
Thanks to Frolick’s intervention, Smith met with Bosasa personnel. “Indeed there was a change in attitude from Smith towards Bosasa,” remarked Zondo.
With a change in attitude came alleged benefits and risks, as Smith’s recent court appearance bears out (granted, more than a decade since the SIU’s damning findings). Smith is next due in court on Wednesday 14 October 2020.
Zondo excused Frolick early on Friday afternoon. The inquiry’s proceedings are set to resume at 10am on Monday 5 October 2020, with renewed focus on Eskom. DM
This article was corrected on Monday 5 October, to reflect Frolick’s accurate title in parliament.