Gaddafi’s ‘Nkandla’ treasure: X marks the despot
This is where things get tricky for officials trying to recover the R400m: King Mswati makes Zuma look like a Quaker
Say what you like about Muammar Gaddafi, but the Brotherly Leader was clearly an excellent judge of character. If weekend reports are true that he asked Jacob Zuma to squirrel away R400m of his R2,8-trillion fortune, that’s the equivalent of someone wanting to hide R1,000 and entrusting you with 14 cents. As I said, an excellent judge of character.
Of course, Zuma wasn’t the only hole Gaddafi found in which to stash his cash. The Libyan dictator was famous for doing with his riches what he probably did to some of his critics: breaking them into small little chunks and spreading them all over the place.
Indeed, in 2010 US investigators found $37bn invested in the heart of the Great Satan itself. That’ll teach those imperialists! Destroy them from within! Or something.
In short, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if some of Gaddafi’s billions had washed up at Nkandla, adding yet another layer of filth to an already perfect metaphor for the ANC: an ugly, sprawling thing, built at immense cost with other people’s money, but already crumbling because nobody inside knows how to build anything; the whole crude edifice dedicated to a fantasy of living in the countryside doing nothing except, now and then, offering shelter to the world’s dictators.
Still, the weekend’s report did raise some new questions, some of which will interest international prosecutors. Local architects, too, will no doubt be looking at the homestead through fresh eyes and wondering: does it look like a cheap movie set, cobbled together out of plywood and cardboard, because it actually is one? What if the rondavels and chicken coops and firepool are simply extremely unconvincing camouflage, hastily rigged up over a huge box full of Gaddafi’s money?
This is probably not the case. The ANC doesn’t have enough imagination to think up such a scheme, and, as the continued employment of Ace Magashule confirms, the party has no problem with leaving its dirt in full view.
Besides, thanks to recent allegations about R80m in a car boot, we now know that Gaddafi’s whole stash could easily have fitted into five Beemers, or, as the ANC calls them, a good morning’s work negotiating with arms dealers.
No, I imagine that if any money was delivered to Nkandla, it was put somewhere quite small and contained, like a Porta-Pool specially erected in the guest bedroom. Safe from prying eyes, Zuma could have spent happy hours lying on top of the cash like Scrooge McDuck, making snow-angels, now and then rubbing some of it on his nipples.
But that was then. According to the Sunday Times, the stash left Nkandla in “five tranches” – I’m picturing Beemers again – and moved to eSwatini.
eSwatini, you will recall, used to be called Swaziland but was renamed last year to mark 50 years of independence from Britain and 32 years of independence from reality, thanks to the 32-year-reign of King Mswati III.
The king, you will also recall, has banned all political parties, helps himself to 25% of all mining revenue while paying no tax, and recently spent R700m on a blinged-up Airbus for himself, to go with his collection of Maybach limousines. (Some have wondered if he is going to end up as the African Marie Antoinette, but this is unlikely: he’s kept Swazis too poor to afford the timber to build a working guillotine.)
Which is where things get tricky for the Libyan officials trying to recover the R400m. Because King Mswati makes Jacob Zuma look like a Quaker forensic auditor working pro bono for an orphanage.
I can imagine Zuma spending some of Gaddafi’s money. In the ANC, petty cash can get very petty, and no doubt a few thousand drifted away into various factional orifices. There would also have been inevitable losses, mainly thanks to goats breaking into the guest bedroom and eating R10,000 bundles before they were dragged out by the tail.
The bulk of the cash, however, would have been safe, because Zuma probably knows one basic rule of staying alive: nobody steals from Gaddafi, even if he’s dead.
Mswati, on the other hand, knows nothing except his own desires. A Disney caricature of a premodern king, he is a man-boy with a baby’s perception of the world, namely, that everything within his grasp belongs to him and exists solely for his pleasure.
Which means that, if that money went to eSwatini, it’s gone; transformed into Maybachs, or waterbeds filled with Dom Perignon, or a two-story-high platinum sculpture of the royal bicep …
Yes, the Libyans will be cursing their 14-cent guy. After all, better the thief you know than the crazed Sun King you’re about to meet.