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Just after 5am this morning, Gavin Watson, founder and CEO of Bosasa, died after a Toyota Corolla his body was found in smashed at high speed against a cement vertical bridge support near OR Tambo International Airport. The manner and timing of his passing raises a raft of new questions in an ongoing saga where much makes little sense. Watson was depicted as an evil puppet master by Zondo Commission star witness and former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi. That narrative was picked up and propagated in the popular press. But the eldest of four deeply Christian brothers with impeccable Struggle and ANC credentials is described by his family as a man who trusted too easily and adopted a very hands off-approach to Bosasa, working on finding opportunities while leaving the running of the business to Agrizzi and his operational team. For those who believe in following the money, the now late Watson, was of modest means, his asset base comprising a home in Port Elizabeth bought in the 1990s, an unprepossessing three bedroom apartment in Krugersdorp, and a small car used by his daughter. By contrast, Agrizzi is fabulously wealthy occupying a mansion (“Palazzio Agrizzi”) in Fourways, owning a fleet of supercars and numerous homes in SA and Italy. Onto the death of a man vilified in the SA media as the personification of corruption. What the late Gavin Watson was doing 75km away from his home in a small company car at the crack of dawn this morning is a mystery sure to unravel in the days ahead. We’ll share details as they become available. But for the moment, earlier this month I interviewed the third of the Watson brothers, Valence. The Watsons are a close family, a bond created during the Apartheid era when it was only safe for them to go into public places as a unit. As you’ll hear, Valence is convinced his eldest brother was innocent of the allegations made against him. Given the events of this morning, the interview is well worth another listen, and for your convenience, the transcript is also available below. Even sceptics who branded Gavin Watson as prime-evil will now wonder whether, as Valence maintains, there is a lot more to all of this than meets the eye. Have a listen – or read the full transcript below – before drawing your own conclusions. – Alec Hogg
Hello I’m Alec Hogg and this is The Rational Perspective. In this episode Valence Watson on his brother Gavin, Agrizzi and Bosasa.
Before our meetings this week, I last saw Valence Watson more than a decade ago, acting as peacemaker in a meeting between my former colleague the late Barry Sergeant and a group of BEE investors in the now delisted gold company Simmer & Jack in which Valence and his brothers had an interest.
After their meeting, this great investigative journalist spent time getting to know Valence and his brothers and the now apparently infamous Watson clan from the Eastern Cape.
It’s instructive that Barry’s initial hostility and deep skepticism turned full circle first, in the story that I was mediating over and later on a broader scale, in a book that he wrote about whistleblower Kevin Wakefield who exposed how Deutsche Bank had trashed the South African rand, Barry wrote very warmly about the Watsons.
I knew the uniquely talented Sergeant literally from the day he entered journalism in the mid 1980s. We worked closely together for years and I remained in awe of this trained advocate’s ability to dispense with the fiction and question pursued facts.
His work ethic was second to none. There’s no doubt in my mind that were Barry alive today, he’d be providing some balance to the popular narrative that casts the Watsons as rogues who bribe the ANC politicians to secure inflated state contracts through their company Bosasa. And it would be he, not me who’d be now providing this side of a story that really makes little sense.
But as I discovered over the past couple of days, listening and checking documentation with Valence Watson, all is not what it seems.
In the end – either the super rich Ferrari obsessed Agrizzi has conned the commission, the media and South Africa at large or Valence and the other three Watson brothers, committed Christians and ANC operatives during the country’s darkest hours, have not only lost their moral compasses but also their minds.
But let’s start at the beginning. I asked Valence for a bit of background on his family…..
Alec, we come from the Eastern Cape, from the farming community. We come from an involvement in what eventually became quite a controversy, the rugby and our involvement in the non-racial sports struggle. This was brought about by our Christian conviction. We were approached by the then president of the non-racial rugby union and asked if we would come and help with coaching in the townships. Because of our Christian conviction we agreed to it. We coached in the township New Brighton in Port Elizabeth and having gone into the rugby scenario we realised a few things.
When you say we, Cheeky Watson’s well known, what about the other brothers?
I am the third eldest, Gavin is the eldest, Ron is the second eldest and Cheeky is the fourth in the family and we were all rugby players and Christians.
Did that come from your father?
From my parents. My father was a lay preacher and he was fully supportive of our role playing rugby in the townships. His conviction and ours, was based on The Book of James in the Bible that says “love the Lord your God above all else and your neighbour as yourself”. When Christ was questioned about who his neighbour is, he says the person closest to you in need. We felt that the African community, the blacks in general needed a new understanding from whites that we are all equal.
So that part of the story is pretty well known. It was tough. You were integrated in the struggle, what wasn’t well known is the role that you were playing behind the scenes.
What happened when we got involved in non-racial rugby in the mid 70s was an uprising within the youth of the country with regard to Afrikaans being forced on black schools. We realised that school kids were under huge threat. They were being harassed, they were being detained, they were being beaten up. We somehow felt that as a Christian it was our duty to help wherever we could. A lot of kids had to leave the country because they were being threatened by death, they were being beaten up, they were being jailed, so we helped a lot of young kids skip the country and externally they joined the ANC predominantly.
Okay that part of the story is pretty well known, as is the fact that the Watsons are deeply observant. For instance none of the clan drink alcohol, they don’t use bad language and as Agrizzi’s testimony confirmed, in their business dealings morning prayers come with the territory. So is this a family of super hypocrites, and what about Gavin Watson the elder brother who’s been portrayed as the corruptor in chief and supposedly a man who built an empire through bribery and corruption.
The background – back to the 70s. With regard to activism. Cheeky got more involved in sport. So did I. Cheeky of course was more visible in that he was asked by Ian Kirkpatrick to remain in rugby and he’d be a Springbok – he refused. I was the vice captain of the Eastern Province rugby side – the white side. Gavin was involved in business and what we decided is that Gavin should be more visible in putting together a programme to get business people to understand what was happening in the struggle. In fact he formed a group called “Concerned Citizens” in Port Elizabeth with Bryan Bird who was a reverend. They tried to get the business community involved to get the message across that the ANC were not as bad as it was purported. We could never say the word the ANC, we’d have to say the liberation struggle because at that stage there was a law that said if you mention the ANC in a positive light you could be charged for aiding and abetting the aims and objectives of the banned organisation. That was seven years in jail.
Again to go a little bit forward, now you’ve come from the background of the struggle, you come from a Christian background as well and your brother Gavin is now portrayed as primeval. What went on? How did he get into this situation?
It’s pretty simple. One of the facts is he’s accused of a R500,000 donation to the president of the ANC. Since the mid 70s, as a family, we have supported the liberation struggle. We have supported initiatives of the ANC. It has never changed and it won’t change now. It is now perceived that the R500,000 given to a presidential campaign is something that is tainted with evil.
But that’s because of the whole Bosasa story. Of course it’s got everything to do with the presidential campaign but Bosasa, when you mention the name to people in the streets in South Africa, they think of a company that’s corrupt, that bought politicians to get inflated contracts so that the Watsons could get rich. How rich is Gavin?
Well the interesting part is that Gavin is the CEO of Bosasa. He has a house in Port Elizabeth that was bought sometime around the mid 90s. He has a townhouse he lives in in Johannesburg. He drives a car that’s maybe a R400,000, R500,000. The fellow that’s making these accusations at the Zondo Commission, by his own admission, has four, five, six Ferrari’s, he has a Maserati, by his own admission in emails, 80 million in Italy. He has a house on the KZN coast. He has a house in Johannesburg. He has a house in Italy and he has an olive grove in Italy. Now what does that tell you about the accusation made against Bosasa and Gavin by the person – Angelo Agrizzi.
Let me just understand this. Your brother Gavin lives in a modest house drives a relatively modest car, he was the CEO of the company but the chap who was the chief operating officer who’s made all these allegations, sounds to me like he’s fabulously wealthy. How come the boss of the company is the one who isn’t as rich as the chief operating officer?
Alec that’s exactly the point and no one’s asking the question. How is that possible? If Gavin’s this corrupt individual, where is the money? The questions that have to be answered are those. It is said that Bosasa is a corrupt company. We are all aware that we have become a litigious society in South Africa. We are much like the Americans today with regard to litigation. If Bosasa or Gavin got a contract, he would have opposition in the courts from his opposition. Gavin or Bosasa has never had a tender overturned. That should tell you something.
I know you weren’t intimately involved with Bosasa, but it is your brother and I’m sure as a family you have been talking about this. What kind of profit margins were being generated on these contracts?
I’ve never been involved in Basaso and we don’t talk business – we are completely different businesses, but the profit margins I know were fairly thin. They’d have to know exactly what a loaf of bread costs. If you can do 10 percent in a business today it’s a good profit margin. I think there was even less than that.
But what about the all the gifts that were given to politicians, Agrizzi has said for instance how he would package up cash and give the cash to give to Dudu Myeni and people at the NPA etc.
That’s all conjection and lies. No one has come forward to prove anything and this is the problem with Agrizzi. He’s a pathological liar and a sociopath. Regarding the allegations that he makes. We would love to see him cross-examined in court. The truth will come out. This is a tissue of lies. He has woven the whole Watson family into this fabric and I have no involvement in Bosasa, Ronnie has no involvement, but he throws in everything that we’re involved in that has nothing to do with Bosasa. This is purely an attack on us as a family and it’s an attack on the ANC. He’s brought into the Zondo commission, just before the election, under the guise that he’s on his deathbed and he needs to get the story out quickly. He then comes to the commission and throws a whole bunch of names in there. And when asked why some of the girts were given, he says influence. On the other hand he says Bosasa got contracts because of the money. But when asked about it, nothing can be proved. It is an attack on the ANC. Tragically it’s an attack on black people in general. He has made out that everybody that is black is a criminal. Just have a look at the people he brought into the Zondo commission. It plays itself out in the recording where he is disparaging about black people. So this is a racist attack, it’s an attack against the ANC, It’s an attack against the Watson family. Look at who was populating his environment. Glynnis Breytenbach is on video with him as well as is Verna Haan of the DA. They are in his study, chatting and there’s a monkey running around on the desk, jumping on Glynnis Breytenbach. That tells you she’s a visitor at that den of iniquity often.
Where is this place? Where did Agrizzi live?
Agrizzi lives in Fourways.
In a significant house?
In a very big house. I happened to go in there once and there’s wealth there like you cannot believe.
Were does this wealth come from? Who owns the company who owns Bosasa?
Gavin and other shareholders. I’m not a part of it at all. But clearly Agrizzi must have siphoned money out of the company because apparently when he was gravely ill – as they say, they found there were a lot of questions that had to be answered going through certain books of the company. They became very concerned about what had happened while Agrizzi was controlling the company.
Where did all that money come from? If you got five Ferraris, an olive farm in Italy etc etc. You’ve had to have acquired that that cash somewhere.
I don’t know.
Have Bosasa not done audits to try and find out?
Bosasa has been looking and there’s definitely been theft at Bosasa by Agrizzi and this has been going on for many years. I’m not privy to that. I’m just saying I know they’re going through a process of trying to uncover what happened while Agrizzi was there.
How did he get away with so much for so long. Was your your brother neglectful or naive?
Gavin was pretty naive. Agrizzi had a way of creating a moat around Gavin and made himself in-dispensible. Gavin actually believed that Agrizzi was a lot better than he was and he did this over many years. A perfect example is that he goes to the Zondo commission and is treated like a lovable rogue. He had the whole country mesmerised in the lies that he spread. So Gavin was absolutely fooled.
So a little bit like Markus Jooste fooling all of his shareholders at Steinhoff.
Yeah that’s a perfect example. And remember Markus used to have some serious shareholders, not like with Gavin. Markus took the PIC for I think 100 million or a billion. He had some very powerful shareholders and they were fooled. So yeah I mean someone like Agrizzi can fool somebody.
Bosasa itself, from the picture that you’re painting, was a good company that competed for tenders, didn’t overpay for the tenders, didn’t pay for influence but everything that Agrizzi has told us is the opposite. How does one get to the truth of this?
Well let’s just look at Agrizzi’s evidence and I haven’t seen much of it, but I do know that when he went to the Commission on the first occasion, he said it was all smoke and mirrors that Bosasa delivered nothing. Cope then comes on to the Zondo commission and says the same. Says all there was a desk, in an office and nothing was happening. Bosasa did nothing. The prisoners fed themselves. When Agrizzi comes back the second time he says his wife will be very angry with him if he doesn’t tell the truth. Bosasa actually delivered a fantastic service. At that stage Alec, the Zondo commission should have said you’re out of here, you’re pathological and a sociopath, you’re a liar, get out of here. But his lies are being perpetrated all the time. How do you on one sitting in the commission say this is all smoke and mirrors and come back a month later and say they actually delivered a good service.
Surely if he’s lied so much, one can show evidence to the commission that this isn’t true. Have you done that?
We will go to the commission as and when required. But the issue at the moment is that the commission doesn’t allow cross-examination of the liar. Be it whoever. If you’re going to cross-examine somebody that’s been giving evidence – I call it so-called evidence. But its actually a tissue of lies, you have to have as much time as he was there sitting in line but they don’t give you that. I heard the one advocate was given half an hour to cross question somebody. That’s ridiculous. You can’t get to the truth in half an hour when this guy’s been sitting and lying profusely for days and weeks.
Where does it all go to from here? If he is lying, surely he has to be held to account.
Absolutely. And the truth will out. There is no doubt and it will come out. There was a collusion of interests here. Agrizzi had his idea of taking over the company. That was the idea. But then you weave that into the fabric of our society – some of the DA sitting in his house, you start putting the dots together. So there’s an agenda against the ANC and still is, it as an agenda against us because we were anti-apartheid activists. I don’t mind being attacked in the new South Africa because I realise that comes with the territory. Where will it go? I don’t believe they’ll destroy the ANC. They’ll continue working at that process. You can see what’s happening Alec. They keep the Bosasa thing alive. Go have a look at Steinoff. Not billions, hundreds of billions. There’s not much in the media. Look at all the other issues that are being brought up, the PIC and all the other things, but the Bosasa issue is absolutely top story in all the mainline media. What does that tell you is that the struggle for liberation has not stopped. It continues to this day because if there was what we would term the liberation we anticipated post 1994 surely the other issues would take precedence when there’s a R100bn the PIC lost because of Markus Jooste and the hundreds of billion lost by other companies, surely that should be fairly high up on the agenda. When you look at the billions that have been lost in all the other issues, surely that should be high up on the agenda. But the agenda is Bosasa. A small company on the East Rand. They’ve got nine contracts over a period of time from government with a very small markup and against stiff competition, have never lost a contract on review with the courts. Our courts we would like to believe are honest and fair and just.
How are you guys taking this as a family? How is your brother?
I think from my brother’s point of view, something that was built up over many years has been destroyed. The lives of four and a half thousand people directly and indirectly their families – and the family constitutes in the region of five people, and the knock on effects. You’re talking about tens of thousands of people’s lives have been affected. It’s affected him because he feels extremely bad that a company that he built with other people could destroy the lives of many people, so he doesn’t like it. He’s upset about it and he feels extremely sorry for the people whose lives have been affected.
Has he volunteered to go to the Commission to set it right as it were?
How can you set something right?
Well if Agrizzi is lying…
No that will be decided at the courts. As I said to you, that’ll decide in the courts because you cannot go to the commission when you are allowed to cross question for half an hour. That’s ridiculous. You’ve got to allow Agrizzi to be cross questioned at length.
Has Gavin been arrested, has he been questioned or arraigned by the police service.
Why would that be?
Well my brother’s innocent.
What I’m hearing from you, he makes these accusations, you say they are wrong, surely though, he worked with your brother for 18 years, he has five Ferrari’s, houses all over the world. Why didn’t your brother see this?
I don’t think he knew about the five Ferraris and houses around the world. This came out of late and apparently when the questions were asked some time ago, by some of the directors that some things didn’t make sense, It was said that it was money made by his wife who was a fantastic businesswoman. Well we haven’t found that to be so. And of course this all comes out now. It’s like asking back Markus Jooste. Surely somebody should have known. Remember, Markus Jooste’s company, a listed company, with so many checks and balances and no one knew. So Gavin is an unlisted company and they just didn’t know. But they do know now.
And the other directors of Bosasa?
Well, their lives have been destroyed. And this was one of Agrizzi’s plans – to destroy people’s lives. Their lives have been destroyed. This is a company that could have continued, but if you’ve closed a company’s bank account you’ve finished the company. So I’m not being conspiratorial but it just seems a little stranger than fiction that bank accounts of people are closed when they haven’t been convicted of anything. And I include the bank accounts of of the directors and so forth of Bosasa.
There you have it, the other side of a tale that has absorbed South Africa’s chattering classes for months. For me after listening to Valence Watson, checking documentation and the timeline and just using a bit of common sense much of what was confusing now starts to make sense to me. What’s pretty certain though is the narrative of a self-confessed criminal who decided to go public and split on his evil boss two years after an apparent Damascene conversion is a lot harder to swallow. This has been the rational perspective. Until the next time. Cheerio.
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