🔒 Meet James Styan, author of SA’s new bestseller The Bosasa Billions

Part-time bureaucrat James Styan’s fourth book is his best selling yet, with the initial print run sold out within days of The Bosasa Billions hitting the shelves. On Rational Radio this week he shared the back story of researching a tale that has made household names of the now bankrupt company’s chief protagonists Gavin Watson and Angelo Agrizzi. He also offers the similarities he found between Watson and former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste, key personality in one of Styan’s previous quick-off-the-mark books about SA’s biggest corporate collapse. – Alec Hogg

James Styan explained what prompted him to write the book ‘Bosasa Billions’ before the story had run its course. He said he thought  the inquiry into Bosasa was going to drag on for many years, by which time most of the people directly affected by it, might not be around anymore. It was in the public interest to get a better idea of the inquiry into Bosasa: Who the Zondo commission was, what they were trying to establish, who Angelo Agrizzi was, who the Watsons were and where they came from? Styan said most people were not able to follow the Zondo commission. There was a lot of information coming out and he wanted to bring out a book which brought the testimonies together and provided the foundation to analyse further information as it came up.

Styan had also written books about Steinhoff and Eskom and he said he was not trying to be some soothsayer, but with regard to those two; it did seem that events developed in the way that he had predicted. “When you look at Eskom, I certainly predicted that South Africa would be going up to Stage 4 load shedding and possibly beyond that, and that is what happened earlier this year when the country had the worst load shedding it has ever seen.” He said he wrote the books hoping people might see value in them and that it could enable leaders in positions of authority to make the right decisions. People could not say they were not informed or didn’t know.

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Also read: Agrizzi won’t be interviewed by Biznews after all, levels more allegations

Styan, who is not a full time author; works at the Western Cape provincial government as a communications advisor for one of the MEC’s. He saw himself as a bureaucrat and a government official; he did not try to pass judgement, because it had not gone to Court and a judge had not made any decisions yet. He said he took the information and repackaged it in a readable fashion so people could make sense of what was going on. These issues had a real effect on the lives of all South Africans and he believed it was the one way that he could try to help to make the country work.

For people who have not been watching the Zondo commission closely he unpacks the inquiry like this:

There was a company that had for all intents and purposes been trying to make a real difference in uplifting the previously disadvantaged. They were involved in government businesses, their bosses had struggle credentials dating back to a terrible time in the country’s past and they were certainly connected to very powerful individuals and leaders in government. Now it appeared by the evidence given by insiders who were at the highest levels of the company that all was not what it seemed; that this company had been getting government business of up to R12bn over a period of 20 years, allegedly illegitimately and criminally. Bosasa was a company that had been accused of paying between R4-6m cash bribes per month; there was “heavy evidence on the one side, video evidence, sound evidence and lots of documents.” Styan said it raised the question of who was running the government and highlighted the bigger picture of state capture. In the past, the influence of the  Gupta family on South Africa’s senior leaders came to light and it was a big problem.

Also read: A MUST LISTEN: Valence Watson – My brother Gavin, Agrizzi and Bosasa

Styan said the kind of wrongdoing exposed in Bosasa was not only in the state sector. In the case of Steinhoff, R300bn in value had been destroyed; the government’s pension fund was the biggest shareholder in the company. He said wrongdoing was everywhere and he believed there could be many more companies involved in similar schemes, which could be a carbon copy of the Bosasa revelations. He said he was concerned about that potential.

Referring to Agrizzi and Gavin Watson, the CEO of Bosasa; he said people should not be under any illusions. Both of them had a lot to answer for whatever their motives were. He said a judge would finally have to decide.He said Agrizzi had been living off the proceeds of crime for a long time. Agrizzi had not publicly returned the various things he now owned, including big houses and Ferraris. Styan said his motives would be investigated by a Court.

Regarding Gavin Watson, Styan said Watson built a carefully orchestrated network of operations that kept his fingerprints off the trigger. There certainly was enough evidence that Watson would have to answer for eventually. It could not be a case of incompetence. Styan said if you examined how the Watsons operated in the 80s, there were other rumours and stories around the family. There were a lot of questions about the way the family had been doing business all along. “You don’t do a twelve billion business where you are the CEO” if you are incompetent. He said the fact that no X marked the spot at the moment did not absolve Watson from any wrongdoing.

Also read: Deconstructing Angelo Agrizzi, Bosasa kingpin turned State Capture canary

Styan desperately tried to get a meeting with Gavin Watson, but said the Watsons were not available for comment. He did speak to several people very close to Watson, mostly off the record who provided deep background and corroborating information. He met Agrizzi and conducted several interviews in which he provided his side of the story. Styan described Agrizzi as a very affable, larger than life character. “He walks in with no bodyguard, with a kind of a devil may care attitude, no fear.” The reaction of people around was interesting. There was one case where a doorman thanked Agrizzi for coming forward. “A lot of people think he has done a remarkable thing”.

Styan believed Agrizzi was to a large extent motived by self-preservation. There was a change in national government leadership with a big move towards clearing up corruption. That could have prompted Agrizzi to be the first to jump out and the Zondo commission had the rule that you could not be incriminated, which gave Agrizzi the opportunity to “name a whole bunch of people.” He had been careful in building up evidence; there was real evidence that corroborated what he had been saying.

Styan said there were similarities between Gavin Watson and ex-Steinhoff CEO Marcus Jooste in that neither of them was giving anything away. They were hiding behind lawyers and were not seen in public.