OPINION: Why I won't mourn Gavin Watson


Are we obliged to mourn someone who has done South Africa and its citizens nothing but harm and showed no remorse for it, asks Howard Feldman.

The death of Gavin Watson, much like the death of Penny Sparrow doesn't move me. My reaction is neither charitable or kind and could well reflect a deficiency and a callousness that I should be ashamed of. I recognise that there are loved ones who will feel their loss and I hope that their pain is limited. But that doesn't mean that I need to feel it or pretend that I do.

Because I do not.

Penny Sparrow was a racist who compared black beachgoers to monkeys. She was unapologetic and displayed no remorse. She made little, if any, attempt to understand why the country reacted as they did and displayed little understanding of the damage that she wrought through her callous and ugly words. She had multiple opportunities before her death to undo the damage of her making and yet she chose not to. She might well have been a wonderful mother or wife or grandmother (I have no idea). But to me she died as a one dimensional racist. Sadly, she didn't have to.

On Monday morning just after 05:00, Gavin Watson was killed in a fiery car crash. The circumstances of the event are unclear and even border on the bizarre, but the result is that he, like Sparrow has died. Watson was the chief executive of the infamous Bosasa, a facilities management company that has been in the spotlight for ANC-linked corruption on a grand scale.

Earlier this year, Angelo Agrizzi, a senior employee of Bosasa chose to testify at the state capture inquiry. There he delivered testimony that managed to stun an already corruption-numbed, Gupta-desensitised country. His account of industrial-scale bribery and shameless immoral behaviour of on the part of Bosasa and the ANC elucidated a previously unimagined but sophisticated system that robbed South Africa and its citizens without them having any sense that they were victims.

It is not a stretch to suggest that much of the country's financial woes can be laid at the door of Bosasa and the ANC.

Little wonder then that the ANC issued a statement that chose to ignore the Bosasa period of Waton's life by saying the following:

"Comrade Gavin Watson made the admirable choice of disassociating himself from the privilege which came with being a white male in apartheid South Africa. His role in the fight for non-racial sports – especially rugby – resulted in one of the most symbolic acts of opposition and discontent against discrimination.

"Gavin also played a role in supporting many activists and operatives of the MK [the ANC's armed wing]. He continued his activism and was unwavering in his support of the ANC. His death has robbed communities of a philanthropist who gave hope and inspired many young people."

What the ANC fails to grasp is that dying in a Toyota Corolla does not reflect "the admirable choice of disassociating from privilege". On the contrary, his connection to the ANC and his willingness to engage in corruption in order to secure massive contracts reflect anything but an "admirable" choice. Unless you happen to be one of the people who is alleged to have received bundles of cash in a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Penny Sparrow's words and actions opened the ugly, still unhealed wound of a country damaged by its racist past. Gavin Watson chose to enrich himself and his political co-conspirators at the expense of the same country. Which one behaved more poorly is something that is open for anyone to debate along with how they should be treated in death.

Another aspect around the death of Watson is that it denies the country the ability to fully interrogate his actions and the actions of those around him, much like the suicide of sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein in the United States has prevented his victims from any real closure.

For me, given that both Sparrow and Watson had time and opportunity before their passing in which to confront their choices, and given that both made the decision to not do so, I do not believe that we need to mourn their passing. I wish their families well on a journey that is not an easy one,  but I do not intend to pretend that I share their pain.

- Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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