Adriaan Basson

Adriaan Basson: Dead men tell no tales, and Gavin Watson knew a lot

2019-08-26 14:42
Former president Jacob Zuma with Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson. (File photo: Supplied)

Former president Jacob Zuma with Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson. (File photo: Supplied)

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Like the late mining boss Brett Kebble, Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson takes many secrets with him to the grave, writes Adriaan Basson.

On Thursday last week, I sent Gavin Watson a text message, asking for an opportunity to put questions to him for my forthcoming book on Bosasa.

For months, I had been researching the state capture cult that Watson built on the far end of the West Rand, tucked away from the bling of Johannesburg's moneyed classes. I had come as close as possible to putting together the puzzle pieces of two decades of depravity and capture, fueled by power, money and sex.

I was ready to ask Watson for his side. He didn't respond to my message and we will now never know his story. Dead men tell no tales and Watson knew a lot.

The net was closing on the oldest of the Watson brothers from Port Elizabeth, who became famous for their resistance to white rugby during the apartheid years.

Cheeky and Valence were the rugby players, Ronnie was the spook and Gavin the businessman. The Watsons supported the ANC during the underground struggle and Ronnie was particularly close to the late SACP leader Chris Hani. Gavin managed the family's clothing business in Port Elizabeth.

When democracy dawned, the Watsons weren't deployed into government like many of their ANC contemporaries, but stayed in business and started building an empire around facilities management and security at state agencies.

Ronnie Watson introduced a group of ANC Women's League leaders to his brother in the late 1990s and suggested that they purchase a company that provided catering and cleaning services to mining hostels on the West Rand.

Originally called Dyambu, Watson bamboozled the ANC women out of the company and started to operate a state capture machine built on connections and cash. 

Watson's first major success was in the department of correctional services, where he successfully privatised catering services in the country's biggest prisons. At the time, two of Watson's comrades from the Eastern Cape, Linda Mti and Ngconde Balfour, were running the department. 

Assisted by his loyal sidekick Angelo Agrizzi, a trained chef, Watson perfected the art of tender rigging to the point where Bosasa wrote the tender specification for contracts only they could win. 

Ruled through fear and religion

Colleague Carien du Plessis and I exposed Bosasa's links to Mti in 2006. Watson was furious and immediately constructed a conspiracy around our journalism, that we were part of an anti-transformation agenda aimed at the ANC. Du Plessis and I were subjected to late night threats from anonymous callers and dirty tricks from Bosasa operators, trying to persuade us to let the story go.

When the Special Investigating Unit exposed Bosasa's corruption in 2009, then SIU head Willie Hofmeyr was included in Watson's conspiracy. He drew up diagrams showing how we were all part of a "plot" to undermine his so-called BEE business.

Back at Bosasa's head office in Krugersdorp, Watson was cooking the books, including paying white staff from a separate company to inflate Bosasa's BEE rating. He ruled through fear and religion.

Morning prayer meetings at 06:00 had to be attended by company directors, who had to pray out loud in front of Watson, and the Bosasa campus was decorated with copper plaques engraved with Bible verses.

Sources told me over the years how Watson and his confidantes would cook tenders or dish out cash shortly after praying. Watson championed the illusion of Bosasa being a Christian, BEE company, while his colleagues were starting to see through his hypocrisy. 

His affair with a fellow staffer was well known and spoken about on campus and led to employees doubting his integrity. 

Agrizzi spills Bosasa beans

When Agrizzi turned, he took Bosasa down with him. Despite desperate attempts by the Watson brothers to keep Agrizzi on side, the Italian chef with a penchant for Ferraris wasn't willing to take the rap for Watson, and spilled the beans during eleven days of captivating evidence before the Zondo commission. 

Watson threatened to pin everything on him (Agrizzi) if Bosasa was ever exposed in court, Agrizzi told me. He chose to make the first move and cornered Watson.

Watson was a major supporter of the ANC and the extent of his support to the party only surfaced in the past year. His donation to President Cyril Ramaphosa's ANC presidential campaign has given the president's detractors enough ammunition to seriously injure the "new dawn".

Watson told Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that he also donated to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's campaign, but later disputed this through his lawyers. Watson was scheduled to appear before a tax inquiry into Bosasa's finances on Tuesday. On Sunday, he called his fellow directors to a prayer meeting and the next morning he was dead.

Watson's brother, Valence, was a business partner of the late Brett Kebble, who mysteriously died in a so-called "assisted suicide" in 2005. As with Kebble, who was also a prominent ANC supporter, Watson takes with him to the grave many secrets. Whatever his post-mortem shows (or doesn't show), he is no longer here to complete the story that shook South Africa and the ANC to its core. 

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24 and author of the forthcoming book Blessed by Bosasa.

Read more on:    bosasa  |  anc  |  gavin watson
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