EXPLAINED: How the evidence answers 10 questions about Gavin Watson's death

2019-08-27 19:00
The wreckage of the car Gavin Watson was driving when it was involved in a crash close to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. (Sesona Ngqakamba/News24)

The wreckage of the car Gavin Watson was driving when it was involved in a crash close to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. (Sesona Ngqakamba/News24)

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The South African news landscape was slowly waking up from a rather dull news weekend - one devoid of shocking exposes revealing bank statements, suspicious payments or internal political party feuds - when the country was jolted by news of Gavin Watson's death during the early hours of Monday morning.

As word of his death broke across websites, news apps, television and radio stations from around 11am, it didn't take long before a wild fire of speculation spread across social media.

Was it Watson in the mangled white wreck? The media confirmed it was the chief executive of African Global Operations (formerly known as Bosasa) but did anyone actually see him in the car? Why was he driving himself? Why was he driving a Toyota Corolla? If he was close to the airport, where was he going to? Was there someone else in the car? What if he fled the country as the pressure on him deepened with probes into state capture and his R500,000 donation to President Cyril Ramaphosa's CR17 campaign for the ANC presidency? What if he was silenced by those whose secrets he carried?

Watson had become a much-talked about figure in South Africa of late: first, due to the explosive testimony of his former lieutenant Angelo Agrizzi at the commission of inquiry into state capture in January; and then later, due to revelations that he personally donated R500,000 to Ramaphosa's war chest ahead of the ANC's 2017 elective conference.

Agrizzi, Bosasa's former operations chief, made a litany of damaging claims against Watson, claiming he was the mastermind behind a scheme that saw the services firm pay politicians millions of rand to secure lucrative government tenders.

In June, DA leader Mmusi Maimane revealed Watson had donated money to Ramaphosa, raising concerns that he had done so in order to "capture" the future ANC and state president. Maimane's bombshell ultimately set off the Public Protector, who has been hounding Ramaphosa ever since.

So what do know about what happened to Watson around 5am on Monday morning?

News24 journalists Kyle Cowan and Mandy Wiener have answers to some of the questions swirling around Watson's death, fueling wild conspiracy theories.

Let's start at the beginning. Was it Gavin Watson in the white Toyota Corolla involved in a crash on a bend turning into OR Tambo International Airport?

Yes. Watson's family has confirmed it was him in car. Information at a local mortuary also confirms that the only victim from the crash was one Gavin Joseph Watson. Cowan, who has written extensively on Bosasa and its dealings, is also certain that the man shown lying next to the wreckage in photos that emerged overnight is Watson.

Why was a man as wealthy as Watson, who owned at least one luxury vehicle, driving a non-descript Corolla?

Cowan says information shows Watson was driving one of AGO's fleet cars as his own vehicle, a BMW X5 had recently experienced mechanical problems. It's understood Watson attended a prayer meeting at his business's offices on Sunday before signing out the company car. Cowan says a former Bosasa fleet manager told him Watson wasn't used to driving a manual car and didn't feel AGO's Toyota cars were safe.

Was it odd that Watson held a prayer meeting less than 24 hours before his death?

No. Watson was known to lead daily prayers services at AGO's offices, compelling management to pray out loud.

"Gavin has been a man who has always publicly professed to be extremely religious, he has, as they say, walked with a Bible under his arm."

If he was going to the airport why did he have no cellphone or luggage?

Only Watson's wallet with bank cards and R70 inside was found at the scene.

Cowan says there could be a "couple of reasons" for this, one being that some of the first people on the scene stole some of Watson's possessions.

He says another reason Watson was driving a different car and didn't have his phone with him was because he could've been headed to a meeting at the airport, and didn't want to be tracked.

"So perhaps he was going to the airport which is a good place to meet someone if you want to escape notice from people who are following you," says Cowan.

Where was Watson going? Did he have a flight booked?

Unclear. While the timing of the accident suggests Watson may have been due to take an early flight out of OR Tambo airport, Cowan says there is still no confirmation that he was booked on any airline.

Was it a heart attack or a stroke?

The post mortem is yet to confirm whether he suffered a heart attack or a stroke while driving, causing him to lose control of the car and crash into the pillar.

Did Watson take his own life?

While evidence suggests that Watson wasn't properly strapped into his seat (the seatbelt buckle was seemingly plugged in behind him), Cowan strong believes Watson wouldn't have resorted to taking his own life.

"I've been reporting on Bosasa for some time, our editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson has been reporting on Bosasa since 2006 and we had this discussion yesterday. And I said, "Does Gavin strike you as someone who would do something like this?" and he said, "No".

Wiener adds that people in the legal fraternity have suggested Watson was "in it for the long haul and was ready to fight the allegations against him for as long as necessary".

Was he murdered?

Cowan says there is "no evidence" to support any theory that Watson was killed or forced off the road by another car.

"There is no evidence that there was another car even near him."

Was the accident captured on security camera?

No, not from what is known at this stage.

Cowan visited the scene hours after the accident and walked the stretch of road leading up to the crash site, and he couldn't find one security or road camera which may have captured the accident.

He says there also no cameras stationed on buildings nearby which could have recorded the crash.

Did anyone witness the crash?

An alleged eyewitness has claimed that he was driving a client to the airport when he saw Watson's car going at a high speed before crashing. He believes that Watson committed suicide. There has been no police confirmation that someone saw what happened.

What next for the bribery and state capture allegations linked to Watson?

Cowan believes Watson's death leaves investigators "in a very difficult position" as they won't be able to question him about the serious evidence they have against him.

"The investigations are definitely going to continue into other directors of Bosasa, into other matters of the company but they're going to hit some serious stumbling blocks every time Mr Gavin Watson's name is mentioned from now on."

While there is still admittedly a long list of questions surrounding the AGO chief's death, what we know for sure is that driving a white Toyota Corolla he died close to the airport. Only the facts can tell us exactly how and why this happened.

Watson was a man who sparked much debate, speculation and questions in life, and it seems this legacy will live on after his death this week.

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