There is a saying attributed to Saint Augustine that “God writes straight with a crooked pen”. This might be true of some aspects of Angelo Agrizzi’s testimony before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
The former chief operating officer of Bosasa speaks of how the company’s corrupting tentacles had entangled the department of Correctional Services. They had paid certain officials up to R1 million a month to pressurise then National Prisons Commissioner Vernie Petersen, to act in the company’s interest. Failure to comply would result in Petersen experiencing “the wrath of Popcru”.
Agrizzi referred to how Vernie had been wrong about what former minister Ngconde Balfour had received as a gift from Bosasa, when he (Vernie) appeared before Parliament’s ethics committee citing a possible conflict of interest on the part of Balfour for his non-disclosure of a luxury 4×4 car. With the smugness of a cat who finds himself in a fish factory, Agrizzi declared that all Balfour received from Bosasa was a glass of wine at one of its lavish functions.
Vernie arrived at our door one winter’s night in 2009. There were two security cars at either end of the short street where we lived. In his sharing, I could feel his abject sense of betrayal. He spoke of how members of the old Special Branch were now in cahoots with colleagues in his department. He had been threatened with death and was anxious about the well-being of his family. He spoke of the temptation to walk away. But he weighed up his fidelity to the Constitution along with a history in the Struggle trenches, against the forces of evil assembling to defeat him. He chose the former and suffered the consequences, as his courage bridled his fear.
Vernie Petersen died on Sunday, February 27, 2011 in Zuid-Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria. June Petersen recalls how her 52-year-old husband, during the latter part of 2010, had been plagued by bouts of coughing: “It was decided to hospitalise him for the weekend,” wrote June in a letter to me: “It appeared to be interstitial pneumonia, usually common in miners and people who work very closely with birds. This profile did not fit Vernie. The doctor treating him was confident that Vernie could be discharged on the Monday as he was ‘a fairly healthy man’.”
There was also a shift in the attitude of the usually attentive night nursing staff. “He told me,” shared June, “that he could not call for help if needed, as the bedside button was not working. His oxygen bottle was empty and he struggled to breathe.” In the early hours of February 27, she was called back to the hospital: “your husband had taken a bad turn”. Once there, June and her sons, Amir Ruari and Dylan felt ignored by the doctor who, when approached informed her that, “We have intubated him and will have to wait and see if he wakes up”.
No other comfort was forthcoming and they held a silent and prayerful watch as Vernie gradually faded from this life: “My sons and I watched his organs shutting down and the last organ was his beautiful kind, strong and loving heart”.
The blame for the death of Vernie Petersen lies at the feet of a compromised bureaucracy headed by greed-driven mandarins who have lost their souls. Along with the hitherto faceless cabals who idolise the golden calf of capital. Agrizzi’s testimony has recast the long-dimmed light of suspicion on what caused his death.
Our understanding and pursuit of justice will determine the efficacious movement of the moral arc of the universe. And we will know who killed our brother.
* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.