Johannesburg – Former Bosasa chief financial officer Andries Van Tonder on Tuesday described Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson as manipulative and someone who used people for his own ends.
Van Tonder took the stand after former COO Angelo Agrizzi’s explosive testimony that lasted nine days. Tonder said Watson used the early morning mandatory prayer meetings as a tool to control his staff.
"He used those sessions as a tool to determine loyalty to him…he insisted that everyone pray out loud saying he needed to hear where we were at. I stopped attending the prayer meetings, which led to a deterioration of the relationship between us."
He said he felt used by Watson after investigation into Bosasa’s financial affairs by the SA Revenue Services (Sars) cleared Bosasa in 2015.
"I was involved in that investigation for Bosasa… misrepresentations were made to Sars and we were cleared. After [the] conclusion of [the] investigation, our relationship deteriorated further…my take was that he didn’t need me anymore as he had won the Sars case."
Watson allegedly began with his attempts to get rid of Van Tonder in 2017, by taking away the powers of a CFO from him. Van Tonder said he was no longer allowed to access company financial information, contact banks or auditors.
"He instructed that I be involved in the construction of a copper rod manufacturing plant opposite the Bosasa head office. He told me to vacate my office and move to the copper rod plant permanently, which I didn’t do. It was not clear what he wanted me to do…at one stage in a meeting, he said he wanted me on the road… I interpreted that as him wanting me to be a salesperson for the manufacturing plant…. I could see he was setting me up for failure."
Watson boasted about being close to high profile people and politicians, and publicly threatened staff, said Van Tonder.
"Gavin would embarrass employees publicly and threaten to fire them personally. He would do it whenever he had any issues with them…or to prove a point.
It was a stressful environment and I couldn’t be there anymore. I feared Watson and still do today…he was connected to people higher up in government and many of these high profile people did visit Bosasa offices all the time," he said.
"He fired people who did the dirty work for him….Gavin would dispose of them after they served their purpose. He even attempted to get rid of [shareholder] Dr Smith. He held meeting with me to discuss ways to get rid of Smith."
Van Tonder arrived at the company in 1995 and worked as a financial clerk. One of the shareholders at the time, Fannie Van Zyl, called management into a meeting to announced that the company would bring in new shareholders in order to access more business opportunities.
The company was renamed Dyambu Holdings in 2000 and along came new shareholders — Watson and Danny Mansell. Van Tonder testified that the shareholding kept changing over the years, the company then became known as Bosasa Group, with Watson at the helm.
He testified that in 2017, Agrizzi asked him to secretly record a video of Watson in the cash vault to show that he was directly involved in dispensing bribes to government officials in exchange of lucrative state contracts.
The video was admitted as evidence during Agrizzi’s testimony. Van Tonder said he decided to pack up and leave Bosasa in November 2017, after one of the executives informed him that Watson suspected Van Tonder of leaking photographs of former president Jacob Zuma’s birthday bash to the press.
"I had never seen those pictures before and never had them. That day, I decided to leave… I entered into a separation agreement with Bosasa.," Van Tonder said.
Bosasa, a facilities management and security company now known as Africa Global Operations, sponsored Zuma’s birthday parties and even designed the birthday cakes, complete with the Bosasa logo.
Agrizzi told the commission that the Jacob Zuma Foundation requested Bosasa’s help at last minute to organise and pay for functions, including Zuma’s birthday celebrations. Bosasa had paid more than R3 million by 2016, for the foundation’s events.
According to Agrizzi, the foundation’s chairwoman Dudu Myeni received R300,000 cash every month as she was close to Zuma. The former president also received R300 000 cash delivered by Watson personally to Zuma at his Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal, Agrizzi told the commission.
Van Tonder will continue with his testimony on Wednesday.
African News Agency (ANA)