It is said that after Nchindo died, his body was discovered by some nightly carnivores. Out there, in the forest they continued to tear into ingestible pieces. Each animal took its share, a piece here a piece there. And that night while the nation slept, and some partied till morning, the man whose name had become synonymous with diamond and all its virtues and vices took his first steps back to his creator. Alone.
But Nchindo was not always a loner. Not because he loved company, which he did, but because a man who had been the head of Debswana, the chairman of the Botswana Stock Exchange, Barclays Bank and resident director of Anglo-American in Botswana and a conduit between the De Beers group and the ruling Botswana Democratic Party that had become the golden goose of the mining giant cannot be alone. A man who had a say in who would be the next president will not be found alone, company sought him out. At one point a close friend of President Festus Mogae and a major player in the national economy and polity, Nchindo knew people and those who he did not know wish he did.
At the highpoint of his powers in April 2004, he invited his friends to a very special occasion; the wedding of his daughter Nicola. About 400 guests made it to his multi-million Pula mansion on the banks of the Chobe River. It was a majestic gathering to pay tribute to the daughter of a man who had done so much to help most of the guests in life while maintaining the delicate balance that was the ruling class and its foreign friends. His longtime close friend, Mogae, Nick Oppenheimer of the diamond dynasty and Chief Justice Julian Nganunu were in the hallowed group.
“As expected the wedding was a flashy affair, characterised by pomp and fanfare. Ululations could be heard from afar,” gushed the Daily News. To mark this special occasion, Nchindo presented his daughter and her new husband wit air tickets to the islands of Seychelles for their honeymoon. Perhaps Nchindo was always destined to be a major role player in the history of this country, belonging as he did, to that generation of young Batswana who flocked elite Western universities in the lead-up to the post-colonial period. They would garner ‘firsts’ in many fields in the civil service and later quit to become the first generation of locally-brewed entrepreneurs.
Nchindo was born on November 30 1941 in the village of Tlokweng. According to David Magang’s autobiography, Nchindo’s father was originally from Zambia while his mother was from Tlokweng. Nchindo spent part of his early childhood in Molepolole. He went to study at St Joseph’s College where he completed his O-Levels. Alongside a number of other young Batswana on government scholarship at the time, he had to pursue A-Levels as a condition to entering university. He pursued a medical degree at the University College London Medical School which he quit in 1964, opting to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford.
It was during his time in England that Nchindo met the people who would become important figures in the country. He was with Mogae at Oxford. Magang often met with Nchindo during functions held by the Botswana Overseas Students Union at the time. Nchindo was the president of the organisation. Nchindo and Mogae formed a tight bond which would endure until a few years ago while Magang became closer to Mogae.
Mogae and Magang returned home at the beginning of the post-colonial period but Nchindo proceeded to the multi-national Procter and Gamble’s Venezuelan operation returning three years after independence. He was back in the country for about two years, until 1971 when he became marketing manager for Vick Chemicals (later Vicks) a subsidiary of Procter and Gamble. He was based in the Caribbean island of Jamaica. However the then 33-year-old Nchindo, who had spent a total of seven years abroad, would get disillusioned with his time away from Botswana and sought to return home. In 1974 he joined Anglo-American Corporation Botswana as an administration manager.
Anglo-American the global giant has always been at the centre of Botswana’s economy. Founded in 1917 by South African Ernest Oppenheimer and American J.P. Morgan, the company became the majority shareholder in De Beers in 1926.
In 1974 when Nchindo joined Anglo-American, De Beers had joined the government of Botswana in a partnership called De Beers Botswana Mining Company to mine diamonds in the country. De Beers Botswana Mining Company was the precursor to Debswana, which was formed in 1991. By joining Anglo-American, Nchindo had not only started a journey to a well-paying professional path in his home country but he was placed in a company with a strategic role to play in the economy of Botswana. He met the Oppenheimers- a family which has become synonymous with diamond. The Oppenheimer family is at the heart of the Anglo-American conglomerate and De Beers. It wields immense powers in not just the economy but the politics of Botswana. Five years after joining Anglo-American, Nchindo was appointed chief executive officer at De Beers Mining Company and resident director of Anglo-American Corporation in Botswana. It is his later role as managing director of Debswana that Nchindo’s influence grew in Botswana’s economic and political landscape. As the head of Botswana’s number one company, he interacted and hobnobbed with political bigwigs. Magang in his autobiography indicated that Nchindo had the ear of
the man then at the top of government President Ketumile Masire. His tussles with Nchindo over diamond beneficiation convinced him that De Beers did not just hold sway in government circles. Magang noticed that Nchindo, as the company’s foot soldier was treated with deference by those in political office. It is now public knowledge that Nchindo was to later play a midwife role when Masire retired and Festus Mogae became President under a newly hatched succession plan. The legendary Schlemmer report was the brainchild of Nchindo.
Now with his friend Mogae in the top office, Nchindo’s role in government grew. In other circles he was known as Mogae’s solitary kitchen cabinet. It is said cabinet appointments were largely approved by him. He had the power to approve and disapprove some names. However this special relationship with Mogae comatosed. With Nchindo dead, it is no easy to know the other side of a friendship that ended in acrimony. Some conspiracy theorists say Nchindo was given the exclusive power of attorney to negotiate a diamond deal between De Beers and Botswana and he got a huge commission which he allegedly pocketed. It is whispered that this figure was in millions of British pounds. Even during Nchindo’s lifetime, Mogae has been dismissive of this allegation but there are some who suggest that this deal was the source of the fall out. What is clear is that by 2004 Mogae refused to renew Nchindo’s contract as head of Debswana even after representation from some quarters.
Ejected from Debswana, Nchindo did not enjoy a lot of public sympathy especially as he presided over a period where 461 empoyees were callously retrenched after engaging in industrial action over bonuses. It was not long before he was hauled before the then Gaborone Chief Magistrate Lot Moroka to face multiple criminal charges.
He was subjected to a marathon court case which is still going on after two years. However, it is said although he may have initially enjoyed some support from the political establishment, this was predicated on him remaining silent on many other sorry details of his dealings with the ruling party until he is forced to, by an inquisitive lawyer in court to spill the beans. Many indicate that Nchindo had many secrets about the current government, that many wanted kept under wraps. However his life took a dramatic turn when it was revealed that he had facilitated a loan from De Beers to rescue a financially embarrassed Masire when he was president. This greatly damaged the reputation of Masire and caused consternation. Masire came out with a somewhat feeble explanation whose major point was the confirmation of the assistance.
From then on, it is said, Nchindo was on a collision course with the political establishment. It is said he lost his last batch of his most ardent friends at that point as he veered into direct collision with the political holy cows. Mogae divulged more - Nchindo had tried to blackmail him into using his presidential powers to stop the criminal case.Nchindo explained that he had not been the source of the Masire revelation while denying Mogae’s accusations.
The last two weeks may have been hard for Masire, Mogae and those close to the ruling group but they could not have been worse for Nchindo. He spent the last three weeks as friendless as ever and as isolated as a man of his stature can get. And so last Friday, he left his Gaborone home on a trip for what the family thought would be a relaxing weekend away in his hometown of Kazungula. Reports indicate that on Sunday morning, he crossed into Victoria Falls in the company of two individuals. It is said he had his short-gun. Those close to him say it was not unusual for him to have one of his five guns in his possession.
That afternoon he was back in Pandamatenga. Some report seeing him at his usual haunt - the Truck-In Bottle Store where he often ate roast meat. He even shared a few drinks with patrons. On this day he looked a bit crestfallen, sources say. For a man who liked braaied meat, it was surprising that he did not come to the braai stand, but instead sat and had a few drinks. He was last seen driving off by patrons of the bottle store. Alone.
Sometime later Nchindo, must have packed his Toyota Hilux and left it locked, venturing into the forest. It was there that he disappeared. Alone. Away from the glitter of city lights, from the loud laughter of friends and hangers-on, away from the clink of whisky glasses, the fragrant clouds of Cuban cigars, the sweet smiles of waiters patiently loitering for extra tips and the lush leather interiors of high-end automobiles. Alone. Away from the few friends he had, if any. Away from his enemies. Did he commit suicide or someone who wanted to see him silent committed homicide? The Police will not say until DNA tests had been done. Did the DIS or security agents carry out the hit on this individual who was proving to be a thorn on the big boys but the DIS and other security agents are not saying anything not even to disprove the damaging innuendo.A close friend says”,what I know is that an innocent man has been persecuted until he decided to take his own life. The rule of law and his friends failed him.”