Some years ago, while the engine room of business continued to grind away, I found myself working remotely, enjoying a time of quiet reflection, which allowed me to take stock of certain realities.
As one does in such times, gratitude comes to the fore, not least of all for the incredible team at Business Report (BR) and Personal Finance (PF), that I have had the privilege of working with, for their dedication and quality reporting and being willing to face criticism and scepticism each time they broke a story.
I also had the opportunity to reflect on some of the achievements and successes our publications have engendered, as it is so easy to lose sight of the good we have accomplished while deep in the trenches.
There was and still is, a lot going on in South Africa that needs covering.
While it keeps us busy, the stories are not always pleasant. Corruption, criminal activity, state capture, fraud, the litany of wrongdoing in government and corporate South Africa is, quite frankly, sickening.
Adding to the pressures we as journalists face, are the criticisms and derision from the public, the corrupt and even from our own media cohort, when we break an explosive story that might beggar belief.
The likes of exposing ABB and EOH, instantly come to mind.
One that certainly caused a furore, was being the first to publish an article stating that South Africa could have been milked of billions of rands in what appeared to then be collusion between the now infamous Gupta family, and leading private and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
This is what we all now know, as State Capture.
In July 2017, I wrote: “Rights groups are pressing for those implicated in the Gupta scandal to be prosecuted both in South Africa and in their home countries, with calls for those found to have transgressed to return the ill-gotten loot to South Africa.”
Details still are emerging of the corrupt deals concluded by international companies and SOEs, in what must be the worst-ever scandal in post-independent South Africa.
I have also published several special investigative reports, under the headline “International companies linked to corrupt deals”.
The first concerned Swiss industrial engineering company ABB's alleged involvement in a R1.5 billion corrupt transaction dating back to April 2015.
The story of Eskom and the missing billion is now common knowledge.
I wrote that: “The ABB contract was valued at about $160 million (roughly R2.68 billion now), and it is understood that ABB essentially started the C&I works at Kusile from scratch. In addition to payment for work already completed, Eskom had to pay a cancellation fee of some R40 million to Alstom to achieve a consensual termination agreement on a ‘co-operative walk-away basis’.”
ABB sued me, as well as the titles.
We defended and two years later, they suddenly withdrew the case and tendered our costs, for the simple reason – we were correct and had reported the truth
An extract of correspondence I received at the time:
“Dear Ms Adri Senekal de Wet
“I am writing to you because ABB is concerned with the articles on ABB that have been published lately. In particular, I refer to the article entitled ‘SA Milked of billions in corrupt deals’ published on July 14, 2017, on the front page of the Business Report in the Cape Times, the Mercury, the Pretoria News, and The Star. We also have an issue with the way ABB is portrayed in an article last week, under your byline ‘Restoring Ethics’ (BR Corruption Buster, August 3, 2017)…
“ABB prides itself on being a responsible and proactive corporate citizen who is committed to ethical business practices. We are not aware of any unlawful conduct on its part in relation to the Eskom control and instrumentation (C&I) contract for the Kusile power station. Please provide us all evidence, if any, in the possession of you, Independent Media, the Business Report, the Cape Times, the Mercury, the Pretoria News, and/or The Star that demonstrate any unlawful conduct on the part of our client in being awarded the C&I contract; and/or dealings with the Gupta family in relation to the C&I contract.
“We demand an unconditional and unreserved apology from the journalists who authored the articles together with retractions, stating that the allegations against ABB in the articles were made without merit… Thank you. Yours sincerely, Saswato Das, Head of External Communications: ABB.”
I was never sued, nor were the titles, for the simple reason – we were correct and had reported the truth.
A follow-up article we published in October 2019 conveyed how ABB was being investigated for suspect payments related to work carried out by the Swiss industrial giant for embattled Eskom.
Yesterday, we were proven right, with Business Report reporting that:
“Eskom welcomed the arrests of two former employees of former contractor the ABB Group (ABB), as well as their spouses, for corruption linked to Eskom contracts of R2.2 billion, following action by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which claims to be much rejuvenated.
“Eskom also hopes this is just the beginning and that more arrests will follow on this matter, and on the more than 100 other criminal cases lodged with the law enforcement agencies over the years,” the power utility, which is struggling operationally and financially, due in part to large scale corruption in previous years, said in a statement yesterday.”
This is but just one example of the many stories we as Independent Media and Business Report have broken over the years.
Other stories have included the likes of EOH, McKinsey, SAP.
Time will no doubt show that once again, we were correct.
For all that there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that what we have done is bang on, and that our reporting has assisted in righting the wrong caused by these corrupt persons and their dealings, there is no sense of righteousness here.
It is our job, some would say vocation, but as much as exposing all the filth and bringing each story to light so that justice can be done, it does leave a sour taste in the mouth that we, as a country, had to endure and still do, the level of immoral, criminal and destructive behaviour that has brought us to the brink of ruin.
There are two things of which I am certain.
First, is that there is still much at stake in the world of the conjoined twins of corporate and political poker, where he (or she) who has the most to lose, bluffs the hardest.
Second, it is that as journalists, it is imperative, to dig deeper and find the truth, even if we are threatened or sued. As the adage goes, “there’s no smoke without fire.”
Adri Senekal de Wet is the executive editor of Business Report.