Monday, September 21, 2020

Nchindo – Walking in the shadow of death

It would make a compelling opening scene for a spy movie.

Dick Bayford stepped out of his car and beckoned me away from the light to a dark corner outside the Sunday Standard offices. Glancing furtively over our shoulders, we spoke in hushed voices as we pondered the life and death possibilities of the clandestine operation.

We were due to meet Jacob Sesinyi at Sir Seretse Khama Airport the following morning. The three of us would board the seven o’clock flight to Johannesburg where we would link up with Louis Nchindo and a group of South African undercover operatives who had allegedly uncovered a plot by the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DIS), a certain local lawyer and a South African cabinet minister to “bring down” Nchindo.

Our flight times had been confirmed and a cab arranged to ferry us from Johannesburg airport to the secret meeting with the South African undercover operatives.

We knew that one false move and we would all end up in a slab of cement at the bottom of some river in South Africa. Bayford was suspicious that Nchindo may have been set up. He was worried that we would all walk into a trap. Bayford and I agreed that he should stay behind to cover our backs in case the secret mission went wrong.

In the weeks leading to his death, Nchindo’s life was full of such cloak and dagger moments. The Gaborone socialite, who was the life and soul of any major public function, had retreated into the shadows and a few that were allowed into his circle were initiated into a network of discreet and confidential communication. When I went to meet him for the last time, about four weeks ago, I had to drive half way around Gaborone, to shake off any tail, before proceeding to our rendezvous.

A few minutes later, Nchindo, Jacob Sesinyi and I were seated around a huge conference table at the offices of the Tourism Consortium. What struck me about him were his eyes. I had always known him to have a strong, steady gaze. This time they looked as though they might pop out of his head. They darted about, constantly looking for the next thing to do, wide open, alert, searching. It was as though his brain was on overtime, and his eyes constantly trying to keep up.

And that is, of course, exactly what you would expect from a man who believed that the DIS was tailing him and probably had a bullet with his name on it. Far from the cool calculating power-crazed businessman with an infectious laughter, he would fix us with a long hard stare as he explained how his South African informers had warned him that the DIS was conspiring with a local lawyer, a South African minister and the said minister’s businesswoman wife “to bring him down.”

The South African informants had allegedly compiled a dossier of telephone communications and pictures to prove their claim.

To my surprise, his corruption case was the least of his worries. He was determined to fight back and said he wanted a lawyer who would not be scared to take on the system head on. He told us that Dick Bayford was his new man for the job.

This was a union of strange bedfellows. Since venturing into private practice, Bayford has carved himself out a legal career as an uncompromising anti-establishment hero. He dedicated his practice to human rights, democracy and a fight against authoritarianism. He fought to have former University of Botswana Professor Kenneth Good’s Prohibited Immigrant status reversed, and is currently involved in pending legal battles against the Media Practitioners Act and the unlawful killing of John Kalafatis.

Nchindo, on the other hand, is an establishment man.

Whenever the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) or its presidents found themselves on slippery slope, Nchindo thought nothing of diverting De Beers money or influence to help them out.

The saga of Festus Mogae and Sir Ketumile Masire’s relationship with Nchindo is the tale of financially and politically vulnerable presidents whose rise to power pushed Nchindo towards the bounds of ethical propriety.

He found himself caught up in the BDP shady funding processes where he helped party leaders move De Beers’ funds in what insiders say was a lengthy effort to obscure who was paying for what and where the money ended up; a setup that effectively amounted to money laundering. There was fear at the government enclave that when pushed against the wall, Nchindo could dish enough dirt to bring the whole government down.

Recent reports of how the De Beers and its sister company, Debswana, were funding the BDP and its leaders sparked panic that Nchindo was spilling the beans. He has since issued a press statement distancing himself from the media reports. The air was thick with fear, and Nchindo knew that his relationship with Bayford was bound to rattle the establishment. He ensured that their meetings were in strict secrecy. He did not risk being seen with Bayford in public. He would usually send emissaries to go and pick Bayford for secret meetings at his home.
He would consult Bayford on the porch of his house or while walking round the yard because he feared that his house was bugged.

“In our last meeting, he was upbeat that his case would finally come to an end as he was adamant that the prime state witnesses, including Festus Mogae, would not be able to answer the questions they had been ordered to answer by the court of appeal,” says Bayford.

In another matter, he was looking forward to his autobiography which he knew had touched a few raw nerves at the government enclave. He had made a request to have his book serialized in the Sunday Standard.

Although he was determined to fight the establishment, he still had a soft spot for President Ian Khama.

“I had a meeting with him recently to allay his fears about my book. ‘I told him, don’t worry, I have not written any nonsense,’” Nchindo said a few weeks ago.

It thus came as a surprise to those in his close circle of friends when Nchindo was found dead in a bush near Kasane town in the northern part of the country on Wednesday night.

His family had reported him missing on Tuesday after he left home, never to come back or contact anyone.

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