With Angelo Agrizzi testifying at the Zondo commission this week, a person can’t help but wonder: Who is the Watson family? Briefly.co.za explores the identities of the Watson family.
Last week we watched on as Angelo Agrizzi laid the situation at BOSASA bare for South Africa to see.
Agrizzi’s testimony detailed how corruption, fraud and money laundering ran amock at the company. How BOSASA used political connections and bribery to secure government tenders or sanctuary from prosecution.
However, this is not the first time a Watson has wound up on the wrong side of the law.
Briefly.co.za explores the controversy surrounding the family:
Dan Watson, Gavin’s older brother, is known in rugby circles as ‘Cheeky’. Dan, along with three others were arrested in 2017 on charges of fraud.
The Hawks had investigated the possibility of money laundering and corruption in connection to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipal Transport System.
The ex-president of Eastern Province Rugby found himself facing down allegations of depositing municipal funds into the rugby unions bank in order to launder it back to the municipality.
Naturally, Dan Watson had deemed the charges against him are malicious. A source from EP Rugby, who wished to stay anonymous, claims that nobody knows if Watson had benefited.
The ongoing case against this particular Watson has, nevertheless, damaged his image considerably. He had made his claim to fame as an anti-apartheid activist who had broken segregation laws by playing rugby in townships from the 1970s along with his brother Valence.
The four Watson brothers- Dan, Valence, Ronnie and Gavin- had been born on a farm in the Eastern Cape, speak fluent Xhosa and had been raised to see all people as equals by a preacher.
Their work saw them enjoying an image as struggle icons in their province. After the fall of the Apartheid government, they had immersed themselves in BEE business.
Brothers Valence and Ronnie had joined the Kebble mining enterprise, Gavin had founded BOSASA along with its numerous subsidiaries.
BOSASA won numerous government tenders to render food and security services to prisons, transport and food for refugees at the Lindela Repatriation Centre as well as security at courts and airports.
The anonymous source said that in light of everything the brothers had done, the recent expose was all the more terrible.
“They could have been charged for being in the township, but they did it anyway. They got a lot of attention from the Special Branch for that. But at the time, you could not make a more anti-racist statement than to play rugby in the townships.”
The source also spoke about how they would have been excluded from their own community for their actions:
“Can you imagine the social backlash they received from the white community? I believe that stalked Cheeky when he became EP president – he was never forgiven among the whites, and it showed in his failure to get sponsorship for the team from corporate business in Port Elizabeth.”
However, in what appears to be a characteristic of the Watson family, they had their reasons for it. At that point in time, the brothers had owned a men’s fashion shop, who mostly sold to black customers at a time when businesses were being burnt in uprisings.
According to the source:
“There will be a lot of people rejoicing about this [Gavin’s pending legal woes] because it would confirm a view they held back then. In a sense, this would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Gavin is not the only brother with questionable business practices. When Dan had become president of EP in 2008, the community had seen him as the man to take inclusive rugby to new heights.
Despite this, Dan had been forced to stand down after players had to liquidate the union for failing to pay salaries.
One of the officials who had seen to his removal in 2016 had given a condemning view of his leadership:
“The way he ran things was similar to what [former president Jacob] Zuma did. He created a patronage system from the clubs that had people he used to play with, and that’s why he could run EP so badly for so long and got away with it.”
One of the biggest accusations against Cheeky had been his lack of accountability:
“He did not hold an annual general meeting (AGM) and the rugby union was not audited in 2014 and 2015.”
According to the source, when Dan had finally held a AGM in 2016, Watson had attempted to manipulate the situation by reading from the Bible instead of giving his president’s report.
“When we finally ousted him for changing audited financial statements, we inherited a union that was liquidated, run by SA Rugby, and had a players’ academy that was falling apart – and we had to start with R31 in the bank account.”
Dan Watson’s son, Luke, would go on to play rugby professionally, but had a difficult time with the sport and its white, Afrikaans following.
Luke had been a prodigy, leading every team he played for at school. The family nurtured ambitions of him captaining the Springboks and completing the family’s fight for equality in the sport.
However, his dreams would never come to pass. He only played 10 tests for the national test after his inclusion had been forced on the coach at the time, Jake White.
Deemed ‘a cancer’ in John Smit’s book, showed just how unpopular this Watson had been.
He had also infamously been recorded fingering the fact that rugby was ‘run by Dutchmen’ as the sports biggest problem, along with saying he wanted to vomit on the national team's jersey.
What should have been one of the most prominent families in the struggle to bring about social and economic transformation in South Africa seems instead to have been one of the biggest instigators of the nation's downfall.
Only time will tell if the allegations against Gavin Watson and his brother Dan ‘Cheeky’ Watson ring true.
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