Mourners ululated as former president Jacob Zuma arrived to attend the funeral of Bosasa boss Gavin Watson in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday‚ bringing dignatories‚ including Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane to their feet.
Zuma took his seat in the front row‚ next to Watson’s daughter‚ Lindsey Watson. He sat nodding as Watson’s family and his colleagues paid their final respect and recounted fond memories of life with Watson.
As Africa Global Operstions CEO Joe Gumede recounted memories of Watson‚ including the daily prayer meetings‚ Zuma smiled as mourners laughed at Gumede’s recollection of his former boss.
Zuma arrived just after Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Mongameli Bobani praised Watson for his role in the anti-apartheid struggle‚ saying he was vilified for supporting the ANC.
“A great son of the Eastern Cape has come home. It is right that he is laid to rest here. He made his footprints here and will lay his head here‚” Bobani told mourners.
He said Watson played a remarkable role in the anti-apartheid struggle and the family paid a heavy price for their association with the ANC.
“He was vilified for this. Outrage increased in that they [family members] were white‚ farmers and highly talented rugby players.
“Their name will go down in the history of this country‚ especially in their fight for human rights.
“The apartheid government learnt that if you strike the Watson family‚ you strike a rock.
“We as the people of the Eastern Cape salute the Watson family for their role in this fight‚” said Bobani.
Mourner Kholiswa Makalima said she had grown up in the Eastern Cape knowing and revering the “mlungu” family who spoke Xhosa.
“Everyone [in the Eastern Cape] knew the Watsons. For us‚ the family has been a strong anchor both in the province and the country.”
Makalima said Watson’s death was a major loss to the province and South Africa‚ politically‚ socially and from a business perspective.
“Watson made a major contribution to South Africa especially through his company’s youth centres.
“They were pillars of strength‚ also in sport. He lived a balanced and good life and really helped this province and country.”
Hundreds of mourners had filed into Port Elizabeth’s Feather Market Centre to pay their last respects.
Watson‚ who controlled African Global Operations (AGO)‚ formerly known as Bosasa‚ died when his car crashed at high speed into a bridge pillar last week Monday within the OR Tambo International airport precinct.
The exact cause of the accident is unknown with a team of specialised police accident investigators probing the cause.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Feather Market Centre‚ with ANC flags draped across the podium and party stalwarts and supporters breaking out in praise songs.
Photographs of the businessman adorned the centre.
Watson and AGO were embroiled in controversy earlier this year when his former right-hand man and confidant‚ Angelo Agrizzi‚ along with other former executives‚ blew the whistle at the state capture commission of inquiry on a litany of bribery operations the company allegedly used to secure R12bn worth of government contracts.
Watson died a day before he was to testify before a SA Revenue Services inquiry into his tax affairs. The inquiry resulted from the information that became public after Agrizzi’s testimony before the state capture commission.
Watson‚ who was an ANC funder‚ has been hailed a hero of the political party.