Ex-Bosasa boss Gavin Watson may face criminal charges as battle between public protector and Ramaphosa hots up

Gavin Watson. Picture: SUPPLIED
Gavin Watson. Picture: SUPPLIED

Gavin Watson, the man at the centre of the clash between public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and President Cyril Ramaphosa, could face criminal charges, with the public protector ordering that he be probed for allegedly lying under oath.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Image: Esa Alexander

A transcript from an interview in March between Mkhwebane and the former Bosasa boss shows how an evasive Watson battled to answer on whether he had also donated money to the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma campaign ( the “NDZ campaign”) in the run-up to the ANC elective conference in December 2017.

His R500,000 donation towards the CR17 campaign – the Ramaphosa presidential campaign machinery – has landed the president in hot water, with Mkhwebane finding in a report released on Friday that Ramaphosa “deliberately” misled parliament in his response to a question about the money.

Explaining how he had been caught between the two rival factions, both campaigning for the ANC presidency, Watson described himself as “the polony in the sandwich”.

The exchange, contained in a letter sent from Watson’s lawyers, Rushmere Noach Attorneys in Port Elizabeth, to Mkhwebane’s office, was as follows, with “PP” being Mkhwebane and “GW” Watson:

PP: Yeah, because we had two candidates. Hence I was asking you . . . did you pay into somebody’s campaign or you paid into the ANC. It wasn’t in this particular instance you had CR campaign and the NDZ campaign. Did you donate to the NDZ campaign? No? [laughing] You know why?

GW [in Xhosa]: You know my sister, these things that you are asking [chuckling], I don’t want to get myself into trouble [inaudible murmuring]. Let me tell you, you’ve seen what’s been said in the newspapers?

PP [in Zulu]: Yes, I have.

GW: Indeed. I am the polony in the sandwich here . . . I mean, you can see that now.

PP: You are.

GW: I am being used. If you think what is happening. I am a small, little company in the East Rand, on the West Rand. I was warned five months ago from people from parliament. Now I am being lambasted.

PP [in Zulu]: Indeed you are because as far as the public is concerned you are taking away from other people. You asked why I am asking the question. I am still going to go back to your blood is green, black and gold.

GW: Sure. Ja. Ja

PP [in Zulu]: I’m asking now, in relation to the statement you made that your blood is green, black and gold. You had two people coming from the organisation eyeing to emerge victorious. Have you found yourself in this kind of situation before?

GW [in Xhosa]: You see my sister, I helped them both . . . So I don’t want to get into the semantics of these things but I helped them both and they are both aware of that. As can be seen from newspaper reports but I seem to be the one being used as a scapegoat in this whole thing. This whole thing is very wrong. Truly.

PP: Unfortunately. I wish you all the best.

In the letter, Watson’s lawyer, Steve Gough of Rushmere Noach Attorneys, claims what he had said during the interview had been misconstrued. Watson then signed an affidavit on July 3 2019 denying he had given money to Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign.

Mkhwebane said this meant he lied under oath, which constituted a criminal offence as it violated Section 11 (3) of the Public Protector Act.

She directed national police commissioner General Khehla Sitole to investigate criminal conduct against Watson.

Watson could not be reached, while Gough said he had received no instruction to comment on the report.

In her report released on Friday, Mkhwebane made damning findings against Ramaphosa, saying he misled parliament in 2018 when he initially said the R500,000 was paid to his son Andile as part of a legitimate business deal.

Ramaphosa later wrote to parliament to say that he had erred and that Bosasa had donated the money toward his presidential campaign.

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Gallo Images

Mkhwebane’s investigation stemmed from complaints by DA leader Mmusi Maimane, and later EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu.

She said Ramaphosa had violated the provisions of the executive ethics code. Among her findings, Mkhwebane said:

● Ramaphosa’s statement on November 6 2018 in reply to Maimane’s question was misleading;

● He exposed himself to a situation involving the risk of a conflict between his official duties and his private interests;

● Ramaphosa personally benefited from the CR17 campaign contributions;

● The R500,000 payment passed through several intermediaries, instead of a straight donation towards the CR17 campaign and thus raised suspicions of money-laundering;

● There was an “improper” relationship between Ramaphosa, his family and Bosasa.

Mkhwebane directed national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi to probe the money-laundering claims.

She gave National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise 30 days to refer her findings to the joint committee on ethics and members’ interests for consideration.

She also directed Modise to consider within her discretion for MPs to deliberate the report and that all donations received by Ramaphosa to be publicised “because the then deputy president, he was bound to declare such financial interests into the Members’ registerable interests register”.

A statement released by the presidency said Ramaphosa had submitted a substantial response detailing how the protector’s preliminary findings sent to him in May were deficient, both factually and in law.

“It is unfortunate, however, that from a cursory reading of the final report, it seems that the response notice has not been given due consideration.

“Nonetheless, the president will study the public protector’s report and make a decision on any further action.

“Ramaphosa wishes to reaffirm his respect for the office of the public protector and his appreciation of the essential role it needs to play in promoting accountability and advancing the interests of the South African people.”

DA leader Mmusi Maimane called for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to decide how Ramaphosa should be held accountable.

“In addition to this, we will be pursuing a range of additional avenues to hold the president and others to account.”

Ongama Mtimka
Ongama Mtimka
Image: Facebook/Ongama Mtimka

Political analyst Ongama Mtimka said the report showed there was a case for the president to answer to.

“It is a fair inference that he deliberately mislead parliament,” he said.

“She [Mkhwebane] has applied herself to cases of law and their interpretation. Her report needs to be responded to on those bases.”

Lawyer Richard Crompton said Mkhwebane’s findings did not constitute intent to mislead parliament.

“At best it is negligence,” he said. “However, if it is not set aside that makes it a serious offence and the public protector should have referred this to the police to investigate further.”

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said the report showed Mkhwebane was out to get Ramaphosa.

“She does not seem willing to give him the benefit of doubt that he made a mistake by misleading parliament.”

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