Mandy Wiener22 March 2024 | 11:21

MANDY WIENER: Jooste, Watson, Kebble - Justice of a different kind

Alleged Steinhoff mastermind reportedly shot himself rather than face the Hawks.

MANDY WIENER: Jooste, Watson, Kebble - Justice of a different kind

Former Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste. Image: Eyewitness News

Within minutes of the news of Markus Jooste’s death by suicide breaking, the parallels were already being drawn with the deaths of mining tycoon Brett Kebble and Bosasa CEO Gavin Watson. 

A very funny friend of mine has always joked with me that he believed Gavin and Brett are comfortably ensconced on a desert island with fictional Days of Our Lives villain Stefano DiMera, drinking cocktails. He crassly messaged to ask if Markus had joined them. 

It’s a dark take but actually, it’s a narrative that has gained traction with many South Africans who remain sceptical about the deaths of all three men. This is largely fuelled by frustration that rich white men who are accused of large-scale malfeasance and white-collar crimes manage to evade justice or at least experience justice of a different kind in this country. 

The Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit had spent years unravelling the spaghetti of the Steinhoff fraud. Since the scandal was revealed in 2017, there has been considerable pressure on law enforcement authorities to bring Jooste to book considering the scale of the crime which was labelled South Africa’s Enron. 

Finally, the SCCU was ready to swoop after years of apparent paralysis. 

On Wednesday, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority put out a damning ruling against Jooste and gave him a R475 million fine. Crucially, it also found that he was the mastermind of the crime. 

Since 2017, Jooste had sought refuge in his luxury home in Hermanus. The prospect of a protracted trial, the shame of detailed evidence being led in court and ultimately jail time appeared to be too much to bear. He was due to hand himself over for arrest the following day. 

According to reports, he shot himself on the picturesque mountain cliff path near his home. 

Those who had worked hard for years to bring justice to this case were left frustrated, describing his suicide as a tragic end to lots of work. 

In the same way that both ANC funders Kebble and Watson avoided lengthy criminal trials and potential jail time, Jooste chose a different kind of justice for his crimes. 

This feeds into the general frustration from sectors of society who believe that wealthy, white men with access to expensive lawyers and resources experience a different kind of justice in South Africa. 

In all three cases, it is ultimately their family members and loved ones who end up having to carry the weight of a tarnished name, unresolved cases and continued speculation. 

It is also fodder for those who cynically doubt the veracity of the reports of these men’s deaths. 

In the case of Gavin Watson, there is no evidence that there was foul play involved in his accident. 

Watson crashed his Bosasa company car, a Toyota Corolla, into a concrete pillar approaching OR Tambo International Airport on the R21 on August 26, 2019.

According to the family at the time, the pathologist found that he had died of a heart attack before the crash. A photograph of Watson’s body and the accident scene was shared with me at the time and law enforcement officers and his family members expressed no doubt that it was him in that car. 
Like Jooste, Watson’s world was also imploding.

Former Bosasa COO Angelo Agrizzi had gone to the Zondo commission and had publicly revealed footage of him preparing bribes in his walk-in safe. The NPA was also getting ready to charge him for these corrupt activities and a SARS tax inquiry into his affairs was in full swing. He was, in fact, due to testify at the inquiry 24 hours after his fatal accident. 

In Kebble’s case, he went to the underworld to fetch his killers. The modern-day randlord was gunned down in what emerged as an astonishing "assisted suicide" on a bridge in Melrose in September 2005. In court testimony, his confessed killers testified about how he had hired them to kill him to make it look like a botched hijacking. Life insurance policies paid out despite their confessions.

At the time of Kebble’s death, the NPA had decided to charge him for fraud and contravention of the Stock Exchange Act. He was also entangled in a massive dispute with SARS over unpaid taxes. There was also a tax inquiry into his affairs. The captain of industry’s lavish world was about to come crashing down around him. 

There are photos and a video of Kebble taken on the scene of the accident and during a post-mortem that was presented to the court. Also, I have spoken to the first responders on the scene of Kebble’s death and they are very sure it was him. 

It took weeks for the assisted suicide story to emerge in the Kebble murder formally. There were stories about assassins having been flown in from Mozambique to kill him, about a diamond deal that had gone wrong. Even after Mikey Schultz testified in court about what had truly happened in Melrose the night of his death, it may still be possible that that entire version was concocted to disguise the truth.

While Jooste’s death means he won’t stand in the dock and have to answer to the long-awaited and much anticipated criminal charges against him, prosecutors are adamant the case will still go ahead. There are other accused and the spaghetti will have to be unravelled publicly. 

The story still has to be told. There has been much at stake in this case for the NPA and it deserves the credit for all the work that has been done to secure a conviction. 

But Jooste has experienced justice of a different kind.