Corrupt looters’ secrets will be buried with kingpin of bribery
Watson’s death saved him accounting to Zondo
Gavin Watson was never meant to be a central figure at the inquiry into state capture. Yet, when he died in a car crash at OR Tambo International on Monday, many people were suspicious about the circumstances and considered the implications for the Zondo commission probing grand-scale corruption channelled through Watson’s company, Bosasa. Former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report that gave birth to the Zondo commission had not mentioned
Bosasa at all in relation to allegations of grand corruption and the repurposing of the state for capture.
It was the terms of reference released by former president Jacob Zuma in January 2018 that opened the scope of the inquiry beyond what was perpetrated by the Gupta network.
The final of the nine terms of reference prescribes that the commission should inquire into the nature and extent of corruption in the awarding of contracts and tenders to companies, business entities or organisations by government departments, agencies and entities.
It states the commission should probe in particular whether any member of the national executive, including the president, public official or functionary of any organ of state influenced the awarding of tenders to benefit themselves, their families or entities in which they held a personal interest. Bosasa’s former chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi ha d been plotting to blow the lid on the illicit activities of the Watson empire for some time. Had his revelations emerged in a series of media exposés, as he had initially envisaged, it would have sounded incredulous. When Agrizzi and the Zondo commission found each other, the game changed. The commission resumed public hearings in January this year after the festive season with a surprise witness.
Nobody who had been implicated in the testimony of Bosasa’s self-implicating consigliere had been forewarned.
So Watson had no time to prepare for his world being turned on its head through Agrizzi’s explosive testimony over 11 days. Agrizzi’s evidence showed that the Guptas’ formula for extracting billions out of the state by buying of politicians and officials was not an anomaly. Bosasa had in fact standardised the model of regular cash payments and gifts to keep their marionettes in the state system comfortable and in their service.
Through the evidence Agrizzi presented at the commission, the nation was given a guided tour of Bosasa’s operating model, including through secretly recorded video footage of “Gavin’s safe” where R1m in hundred rand bills was stacked and packed for bribes. As cheeky as the Guptas were, South Africans never saw them in action and had to rely on other people’s versions of interactions with them. But Agrizzi’s testimony was a journey into the rot, showing exactly how bribery is used to rig contracts and how protection money is paid to ensure political cover. Agrizzi alleged that payments were made to, among others, Zuma, via the former SAA board chair Dudu Myeni, former cabinet minister Nomvula Mokonyane, former deputy prosecutions boss Nomgcobo Jiba and other senior National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) officials, former correctional services officials, including the commissioner Linda Mti, members of parliament and journalists.
The details he presented were jaw dropping, including how Mokonyane was gifted with cases of frozen chickens, braai packs and booze, how he won Myeni’s favour with a Louis Vuitton handbag stuffed with cash, and how money was laundered for payments of cash bribes. Agrizzi portrayed Watson as the quintessential mafia boss – eccentric, domineering, audacious and cutthroat, munificent to those on his payroll and a religious nut to boot.
The Watsons were wellknown anti-apartheid activists from Eastern Cape and recognised donors of the ANC. It was natural to see Bosasa branding at ANC events.
In 2006, the media began reporting on alleged corruption involving Bosasa and the department of correctional services, and in 2009 the Special Investigating Unit completed a report on the matter. Bosasa was tainted but not troubled by the NPA until this year. Since Agrizzi’s testimony, backed by other former employees of the company, Bosasa has become a central facet in the statecapture narrative.
The story took a new twist after DA leader Mmusi Maimane asked President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament about a R500,000 donation he received from Bosasa. Ramaphosa botched his response, initially saying the payment was made to his son Andile for consulting work he did for the company. The president later backpedalled, admitting that the money was donated to his CR17 campaign for the ANC leadership battle. Bosasa has since been a monkey on Ramaphosa’s back with public protector Busiswe Mkhwebane using the DA complaint to conclude that there had been possible money laundering in the CR17 campaign and to expose his other donors. The man at the centre of all these scandals had remained silent. On Monday, he perished along with his version of events. While conspiracies abound about whether he had tried to evade justice by staging his death or whether the company car he used might have been tampered with, the question is what happens to the Zondo commission probe on Bosasa.
The commission spokesperson Reverend Mbuyiselo Stemela did not respond to questions as to whether Watson was interviewed by their investigators, if he had applied to cross-examine Agrizzi and other witnesses, and whether he had been lined up to testify.
Like with the Gupta brothers’ refusal to return to the country to testify, Watson’s death cancels out an essential facet of the inquiry – the version of the alleged perpetrators.
It also nullifies judge Raymond Zondo’s ability to hold Watson accountable for the corruption, bribery and fraud that occurred under his direction.
Watson was scheduled to testify at an inquiry into his tax affairs yesterday, which would have been the first formal process to get answers from him. He never got there. The NPA, Zondo commission and SA Revenue Service are all seized with explosive files on Bosasa. But the kingpin is now missing. Watson’s death could have just been a tragic accident. But the result is that yet another crook was able to evade accountability and justice. In a country defined by corruption and impunity, those who benefited from Watson’s largesse know that many of their secrets will be buried with him.
‘ ‘ Agrizzi portrayed Watson as a mafia boss