Newsflash

Gavin Watson, the man who bought the ANC, dies in horrific car crash

By Ferial Haffajee 26 August 2019
Caption
Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson was killed in a car crash while driving to OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg on 26 August 2019. Photo: Twitter / Rianté Naidoo

Gavin Watson, the eldest brother of four who won acclaim for supporting the ANC and the fight against apartheid, died at dawn on Monday, August 26 in a horrific car accident en route to OR Tambo International Airport.

Bosasa CEO, Gavin Watson died in shame. The house of corruption he constructed in his facilities management company, Bosasa, was falling down around him after his former lieutenant Angelo Agrizzi spilt the beans on how the company had become an ANC front for corruption.

In two weeks of testimony before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in 2019, Agrizzi revealed how Bosasa had built an empire on graft as Watson parleyed his contacts in the ANC into multi-billion contracts at the prisons, the Airports Company of SA and the Lindela repatriation facility for illegal immigrants, among others.

Visuals from the scene of the car crash in which Bosasa boss Gavin Watson while driving to O R Thambo Airport on 26 August 2019. Photo: Twitter/Chriselda Lewis

In turn, Bosasa provided the ANC with funding and Watson used the company’s sprawling West Rand campus to run hi-tech election centres for the governing party. Agrizzi’s testimony, as well as investigative reports, have revealed how the company bribed at least a score of members of the ANC top brass with money, security installations, braai meat, expensive whisky and beers and jobs for pals.

In so doing, the party has become, with the Gupta family patronage network, one of the two major stories of how the ANC was corrupted after it led the liberation of South Africa from apartheid in 1994.

Watson died as he faced another major scandal: this time, his company is front and centre of influence-peddling allegations, in relation to an R500,000.00 donation to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to become ANC president in 2017.

That donation is at the heart of an investigation by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane into how Ramaphosa first answered a parliamentary question related to the donation. Once it became clear that Ramaphosa’s campaign for the top job in the party was on the rise, Watson made good with his son, Andile, offering him a lucrative monthly consultancy. According to Agrizzi, the two travelled to several countries across the rest of the continent, including Uganda where Ramaphosa junior has a family of in-laws. This, it appears, was Watson’s planned path into a new political administration.

Bosasa had a name change to signify the new path: it was rechristened as Africa Global Operations and Watson wanted to export its model of facilities outsourcing to the continent’s new growth hubs. But all those ambitions came tumbling down in January as Agrizzi sang and dropped file after file into Bosasa’s dirty dealings. News reports suggest Agrizzi was aggrieved that Watson did not give him the parting package he wanted and that he was motivated less by the Damascene conversion he claimed than by financial pique.

Whatever the motivation, Agrizzi ruined Watson’s plans and arguably ruined his life. Writing in the Guardian, Mark Gevisser revealed that the two other Watson brothers, Cheeky and Valence, tried to put distance between Bosasa and their own businesses when he met them in the course of doing a long profile of the Port Elizabeth family. Gevisser said Valence Watson described the family’s business ethos as: “Love your neighbour as yourself” and “Earn your money by the sweat of your brow”. While Gevisser does not say so, Gavin Watson played too far from home in how he ran Bosasa. But even there, Agrizzi revealed to the State Capture commission that while the company engaged in grand corruption, Gavin Watson also insisted on daily and sometimes all-night prayer meetings at Bosasa.

The Watsons were long-time business leaders whose shop in Port Elizabeth had been frequented by black customers and by a few white ones who enjoyed its ethos of non-racialism, writes Gevisser.

The family, including the ace rugby player Cheeky Watson, gained global recognition when they eschewed Springbok rugby to play black rugby.

While giving testimony, Agrizzi said his life was in danger (he attended the hearings with four armed guards in tow) and he alleged that Gavin Watson had engaged the services of Mikey Schultz. Schultz is an underworld strongman who is best known for assisting mining magnate Brett Kebble’s suicide.

Gavin Watson was 71 years old and was the oldest brother of the Eastern Cape family. DM

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