For only the second time in my life, I crossed the threshold of Bosasa’s massive front entrance on Tuesday.
Ducking underneath a large, black gate that slides down like a portcullis, I was greeted with a somewhat familiar sight – palm trees with luscious green lawns and face-brick buildings peeking out here and there, with Bosasa’s branding, now African Global Operations, plastered on almost every available surface.
I had seen the view from the main entrance on a few occasions during surreptitious drive-by’s and other times I found myself at Bosasa, once for a protest and on another occasion to witness liquidators taking control of the premises.
The entire ‘Smart Global Campus’ could easily be mistaken for a resort or corporate getaway spot in trendy Sandton or up-and-coming Midrand but Bosasa’s head office lies in stark contrast to the West Rand scenery surrounding it.
Across the road is a dusty furniture manufacturing shop, and a glance to the right shows a massive mine dump, complete with large trucks that roll past in an almost constant procession of diesel fumes coupled with a low rumble that drowns out a the hails of a peacock that still struts proudly around the gardens.
But past the gate, tarred parking lots and roads spanning in three directions cut through pristine lawns and gardens, maintained religiously by a dedicated team of gardeners, who were well underway with their morning duties when I arrived just after 8am.
Paved pathways marked the way between more than 20 buildings around the large property, and the whole scene is kept under surveillance by a top of the range Chinese-made Dahua Technologies “smart city” system – it was designed as an exhibition of sorts.
After a brief introduction with an official from Park Village Auctions, I set out on what would be a tour of the 8 hectare premises, the first time any journalist had gained such extended access to the late Gavin Watson’s inner sanctum.
It was important to keep in mind the place would only represent a shadow of its former, bustling self on this, a day before it is due to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
But after more than a year investigating and reporting on the Krugersdorp company’s corrupt dealings, I was sure the now infamous hallways would hold some secrets.
I wasn’t disappointed. Well, not completely, anyway.
The first revelation came as I walked through the front door. When you hear the name Bosasa, the names and faces of two men spring to mind – Gavin Watson and Angelo Agrizzi.
Mounted on the wall of the reception area are sandblasted glass plaques with pictures of important figures in the company. Watson’s picture is prominently displayed, on his own plaque, while other familiar faces popped out at me from other plaques – Thandi Makoko, the late Prof Jurgen Smith, Jackie Leyds as well as Munirah Oliviera and Trevor Mathenjwa, important role players all in the massive Bosasa machine.
Other directors, Papa Leshabane, Joe Gumede and Ishmael Dikani share another plaque with Leyds and Makoko.
But absent, completely without a trace, is the face of Agrizzi – the man who betrayed Watson and spilled Bosasa’s corruption beans at the Zondo Commission into state capture.
Nothing points to Agrizzi having left any mark here, his absence from this proud and vain display by Bosasa of its leaders is a stark reminder that Watson, more than any other person, was the driving force behind Bosasa’s operations.
By all accounts Agrizzi was the faithful sidekick, who preferred to work in the shadows keeping the cogs of the machine well-oiled and running. And his presence it seems, has been exorcised from the buildings.
Walking past two curved reception desks, I arrived in a more secluded waiting area. A large Nespresso coffee machine stands on a table, which couches and chairs scattered around the room.
In the corner, a beautiful wooden bookshelf is home to two Bibles and other books including a large tome claiming to offer insight into the Russian civil wars.
Leaving this room I crossed a narrow walkway into an attached but separate building that holds a few offices and boardrooms. At the entrance I was greeted by a large plaque, of similar design, on which was emblazoned the Lord’s prayer, and a passage from Proverbs 3, verse 1 to 5.
The largest boardroom is at the very back of the building. The same glass plaques displayed in the reception area are mounted on the wall above a small kitchenette with a fridge and space to make coffee.
A large U-shaped table is the centre piece, with brown leather office chairs I immediately placed in the “too expensive for mere mortals” category.
Across the front of the table words such as “integrity”, “confidence”, “ambition” and “empower” appear in silver lettering.
I had been in the building for less than 10 minutes, and the feel of money was everywhere, cloying and heavy – a feeling I could not fully put my finger on, other than perhaps to describe it as the strange sensation one experiences when confronted with vulgar displays of wealth and vanity.
Later on the tour I asked rather tentatively if the walk-in safe where Watson was filmed counting out money alleged to be for bribes, was accessible. Minutes later, I found myself inside the true heart of Bosasa’s operation, a small, drab room with a heavily fortified steel door.
Three big safes stood in one corner, with a couple of cheap office tables and chair the only furniture. Around two walls, shelves stacked with documents. And industrial type carpet stood in sharp contrast to the beige, glossy tiles laid throughout the offices just outside.
This room would not have been out of place in an old mining company’s site office. But it was here that money was counted and dished out to many government officials to keep Bosasa’s wheels greased and rolling, and to keep the tenders going.
The safe is one of three on the property – a strange addition to the architecture for offices of a company that did not operate a cash heavy business.
It is a strange, dark little corner of this office park that has no resemblance to the rest of the offices.
The remainder of the 16 office buildings – each named after a different African country in line with Bosasa’s vision of expanding to Africa – including the large call centre and research and development building where Bosasa designed its software and security systems, even the guesthouses and the Imbizo hall gave me the same feeling that expensive tastes were allowed to dominate decoration decisions.
It is a meticulously maintained place designed with a certain efficient aesthetic in mind. And no expense was spared.
On my first visit, I witnessed peacocks and blue crane birds as well as black springbuck running on the lawns. This time, only a lone peacock was in attendance. I was told some of the springbuck were still around, but did not see them.
Bosasa was paid a little more than R12-billion by various government departments since 2004, and the prosperity shows in every nook and cranny.
What I saw placed me in no doubt Bosasa was an exceptionally well-run operation. The services the company delivered were of a high-standard, and the very condition of its offices shows the Bosasa monster was managed with almost military-like precision.
An extremely religious Watson left his mark of devout Christianity on almost every building. Throughout the massive office park, yet more silver plaques carry Bible passages, reminding staff who walk over them to be humble, to pray and to count their blessings.
It is a surreal place – where tender documents were cooked, cash used to pay bribes was counted out in one of three massive walk-in safes, journalists and law enforcement officers were plotted against and prosecutors stymied.
It is obvious that Watson and his other directors spent ridiculous sums of money making the Bosasa head office a luxurious and over-the-top workspace.
But the glossy veneer of corporate catalogue-esque design does not hide the stench of corruption.
For someone who has learned intimate details of this company’s way of doing business, the fancy furniture and gaudy style is nothing but an expensive façade, made cheap by the men and women who for so many years pretended Bosasa was anything other than a money making machine.