Wandile Bozwana. Picture: SUPPLIED
Wandile Bozwana. Picture: SUPPLIED

I met Wandile Bozwana in 2013. Our introduction had been arranged by a mutual friend; he swaggered into a restaurant in Sandton and immediately launched into a monologue about how wealthy he was. He told me he owned a private jet (which was balls) and a Ferrari (which was true).

As he spoke about the construction and transport businesses he owned in North West province, he moved uncomfortably in his chair and his eyes darted around the room. He was a rural businessman in the city — the place of the sophisticated finance, academic or media elites — and the agitation, I later thought, was paranoia, or an expression of awareness of the inferiority complexes within the emerging class of black professionals.

Bozwana was particularly concerned about his image in the media. "My enemies," he declared without mentioning names, "occupy the most powerful structures in the North West, right up to the premier’s office and will stop at nothing to smear my character, including paying journalists to write nonsense."

I liked Bozwana. After our first meeting, I saw him occasionally. He was like a pleasant, depsychopathed Hlaudi Motsoeneng, with endearing depths beneath a paradoxical exterior that included genuine enthusiasm, excessive gesticulation and shiftiness. At our last meeting, he explained how he had squared up to a group of businessmen aligned to North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, who he believed were interfering in his pursuit of various construction tenders. He also claimed not to have been paid.

In September 2015, he won a court order to attach assets belonging to the North West government.

A month later, I was in London and Bozwana sat in a car at a traffic light in Pretoria near the Garsfontein offramp. A man emerged from a nearby BMW and fired no fewer than 12 bullets into the car, nine of which struck him, resulting in his death shortly afterwards.

For people like Bozwana and his adversaries, scrapping it out on dusty provincial roads, losing a tender isn’t just the severance of income, but literally the bottom of a mine shaft too.

In these peculiar worlds within a country, there is no such thing as coincidence, only the illusion of it.

On March 30, the North West provincial legislature sat. The ANC in quarter did not discuss the chronic failure of service delivery, or how consistent electricity to its poorest areas has become a foreign concept, but how banks operate and of the rotten treatment to which they have supposedly subjected the Gupta family. They do things like this not only in an attempt to appear relevant against the fear of their own rural inferiority complex, but because there is uranium to be mined in that province, courtesy of the Guptas.

The desperate president does not just have to appease the increasingly impatient Russians, but the children and nephews and nieces of and mistresses of officials there too — the thousands of potential vendors barging and jostling for transport routes and tuckshops and the supply of PVC pipes.

Since his name was mentioned in the court papers of Schabir Shaik’s trial, I have read every notable analysis on President Jacob Zuma ever documented. But in a few hours, Bozwana taught me more about him than anything else, about how he thinks and the forces that persuade him in the places of his strongest support. The only way to understand this world is not just to participate within it but, where necessary, to perform its worst functions too.

The forces that protect the president and demand apologies from "ill-disciplined" members of the ANC national executive committee are a consequence of an extended period of apathy and isolation and it is here they found the strength they demonstrate today. There was a time when outrage at the ANC was limited to Tony Yengeni’s Mercedes-Benz discount and Thabo Mbeki’s HIV/AIDS denialism and position on Zimbabwe.

During this era, the only thing we heard about the distant provinces was how much money white cattle farmers were making, having turned their ranches into hunting safari reserves.

I thought about Bozwana a lot last week and I’ve realised that the story of his life and death — his wealth, his decisions, his ambition, the choices and the enemies he made — is actually the subtext of Zuma’s ANC, the terms and conditions of his promise of a better life for all.

I thought about Bozwana’s body, pumped full of metal, slumped in the passenger seat of a bright yellow Renault Clio branded with a cheap energy drink logo and I thought about how arrogant civil society is to consider things such as principle and moral fortitude as genuine weapons against these forces.

• Reader works for an energy investment and political advisory firm.

Please sign in or register to comment.