Voices

Open letter to Gavin Watson: Have you lost what you stood for?

2019-02-12 23:05

Dear Gavin,

Like some in your family, I played sport on the dusty fields of the Eastern Cape townships.

In fact, we met a few times, though you probably don’t remember that.

And, like your family, I too got into trouble for throwing in my lot with township sports teams.

I played goalkeeper, first for New Town City and later for the Grahamstown champions XI Attackers.

I was a pretty useful goalkeeper, which earned me the nickname Peta “No Mistakes” Bala’c, and I was a representative of the Kwazakhele Soccer Board.

Unfortunately, the long arm of the law (all of them – security police, “normal” SA Police Service and even the military police) was less interested in my playing ability and took a much greater interest in my being in the township without a permit.

As a dedicated, committed member of the SA Council on Sport, I refused to apply for a permit.

And so did your family.

So we both faced the wrath (and the back of police vans and police stations) of the apartheid state.

Presumably, like me, the motivation to play sport in the township was simple: Wanting to play the sport we loved and, with belief and conviction, wanting to throw in our lot with those who the apartheid state kept oppressed.

Needless to say, the struggles we faced and the harassment we suffered as a result pale in comparison with the struggles and harassment that the majority of South Africans faced on a daily basis.

I recall having your back when the state claimed that your family was involved in the township only to further your business interests and get people from the township into the sports shop your family owned.

Even though the term had not yet been coined, I argued that it was fake news and that it was an attempt by the government to besmirch your name.

Once the release of political prisoners and the unbanning of political organisations heralded a new and hopeful era, our paths went off in different directions.

You concentrated on pursuing BEE deals, I pursued my chosen profession: Being a journalist.

If Angelo Agrizzi is to be believed, there was, however, one thing we had in common. We both parted with some of our money, but that seems to be the only similarity.

Read: State capture commission investigators confirm Bosasa witnesses' testimony 

Whenever I could, I gave some money to a friend of mine in the township.

He had been my central defender when I was playing for the XI Attackers but, as with so many of our fellow citizens, he was left behind in the new South Africa.

There was no job for him nor any prosperity. But he did not complain. He got on with his life and tried as best he could to provide for his son, whom he had named Peter after me.

Sadly, last year, he died, destitute and never having had a proper job.

You also handed out money. But it seems not to people like my friend, who really needed it.

No, yours went to the WaBenzi making them even richer – and, of course, making you richer.

I read that you received about R12 billion in government contracts.

I have no idea how much of that was profit, but with the kind of money that is alleged to have been paid by you to various fat cats to ensure that the stream of BEE deals kept on flowing, it must have been enormous.

And that got me thinking. Imagine all the good that could have been done with that money.

Better healthcare could have improved the lives of so many, maybe even my friend.

Dear Gavin, I am writing this letter before the allegations have been proved.

I sincerely hope the allegations remain just that: Allegations. However, where there is smoke there is fire.

If the allegations prove incorrect I will do a (Adriaan) Vlok on you. I will come and wash your feet.

However, if the allegations prove true – or some of them – I expect you to go to New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Zwide and wash feet there.

Wash the feet of the tens or hundreds of thousands – if not more – of people whom you have betrayed.

Here is hoping that – contrary to what has been said – you have stayed true to your ideals.

All the best,

Peter Auf der Heyde

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January 26 2020