Diamonds and a dead body
Allegations of politicking against the Botswana operations of mining giant De Beers have ended up in the mysterious death of Debswana's former managing director. Ray Ndlovu reports
A partially decomposed body, apparently mangled by wild animals in the forest of Pandamatenga, a gun at the scene and a family pleading for "privacy to deal with its monumental loss" are the only facts that have come to light regarding Louis Goodwill Nchindo's mysterious death.
Nchindo was the all-powerful former managing director at Debswana -- the joint venture between the Botswana government and De Beers -- who was found dead last week, four days after being reported missing by family members.
In April, a corruption trial which had him facing 36 counts of graft, was to begin.
The philanthropist and power broker controlled Botswana's largest diamond enterprise, which accounts for a fifth of global diamond production, for almost three decades. On Friday a forensic report is expected to confirm the cause of death.
While investigations are being conducted, Botswana's democracy is being pulled into the spotlight once again, dealt a heavy blow by a complex web of allegations of politicking and persuasion in the corridors of government by diamond giant De Beers.
Nchindo retired in 2004 from Debswana after then-president Festus Mogae refused to renew his contract. Four years later, corruption charges were leveled against Nchindo, his son Garvas Nchindo, then-group secretary Joseph Malope Matome and Jacob Sesinyi, a communications chief. They were accused of 36 counts of graft, including theft, attempts to defraud various government officials and the creation of ghost companies used to purchase plots meant for private use.
Once hailed for his philanthropic and business savvy, Nchindo was head of the group between 2000 and 2004, when it saw a 20% increase in diamond production. Under his leadership, the company also pioneered an HIV/Aids strategy for workers in Botswana which, according to the United Nations programme on HIV/Aids, has the highest infection rate in the world, estimated at 35,8% of the adult population. For his work in combating the epidemic, Nchindo was given the Presidential Order of Honour Award by Mogae.
But last month things turned increasingly sour for Nchindo after the Botswana Guardian reported that he had sought to have his corruption charges dropped, approaching Mogae, his long-time friend, for assistance.
Nchindo threatened to "spill the beans" if his demands were not met, according to the paper. Shortly after the reports, exposés in Botswana's Sunday Standarddetailed the intricate financial dealings between the government, Nchindo and De Beers (through its appendage Debswana).
This included an alleged bailout scheme to former president Ketumile Masire's ailing farming business in 1980, a four million pula (R4,4-million) payment in 1998 by De Beers to buy Masire out of the presidency, as well as the funding of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), which has been in power since 1966.
"Louis Nchindo died with a lot of information and the problem is that the people around him that remain and the ruling party have an interest in withholding information," deputy editor of Sunday Standard Spencer Mogapi said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian last week.
After the Sunday Standard report was published, former president Masire admitted the "modest support" he received from De Beers, which was facilitated by Nchindo about 30 years ago. He said in a statement that his relations with De Beers and people associated with De Beers "did not in any way materially compromise government's subsequent bilateral dealings with the company".
The diamond company responded to queries about its support for Masire by pointing out that its former employee, Nchindo, was the mastermind of the bailout, adding that De Beers today "operates in a completely different environment with clear policy guidelines governing donations and for disclosure".
In September last year a hard-hitting report entitled Corporate Social Responsibility in the Diamond Mining Industry in Botswana: De Beers, Botswana and the Control of a Country, compiled by the Bench Marks Foundation, noted the "inappropriate marriage" between the government and De Beers. When the report was released, De Beers expressed its "concern over the distorted and inaccurate portrayal" of its role in Botswana.
A source linked to the report, who requested anonymity, said that it contained sections referring to Nchindo's involvement in the alliance. "Nchindo was on trial for corruption, he threatened to expose both the head of De Beers, Nicky Oppenheimer, and a former head of state. Now the trial will come to an end and the potential damaging knowledge that Nchindo had will go to the grave," said the source.
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