Africa Check doesn’t shy away from fact-checking the absurd. We’ve investigated claims that dead mermaids were found in a South African president’s swimming pool. And did a prophet really challenge a lion to a fight in Kruger National Park?
But I didn’t expect my fact-check into claims about South African president Cyril Ramaphosa being charged with racketeering and treason to turn very weird, very quickly.
A Facebook post, published in April 2021, includes nine photographs. The first is of two men standing outside the Sandton, Johannesburg branch of the South African Police Service. The second shows one of the men writing on a document inside a room. The rest of the photos appear to show pages of an affidavit.
This should be easy, I thought. I’ll call the police, identify the man in the photos, and find the truth. But I ended up going on a wild ride down a conspiracy-theory rabbit hole.
Ramaphosa ‘stole’ more money than exists
It turns out the charges were filed by a man named Fanie Fondse. The allegations he makes are serious. Racketeering, murder, theft, robbery, fraud, culpable homicide, high treason, assault, theft with false pretenses and defeating justice are all recorded as “incidences”.
The 200-page long affidavit shown in the images unfolds like a renaissance painting – the longer you look at it the more you see. And the stranger things get.
The charge sheet claims that Ramaphosa was involved in a heist stretching back to the 1960s. Allegedly R41 quadrillion was stolen from the country’s coffers, along with 100,000 tonnes of gold.
We’re not talking about small change here. A Google search indicates that R41 quadrillion is more than the total GDP of South Africa, which sits at US$351 billion or R4.8 trillion.
And the gold that was supposedly stolen? It’s a little more than half of all the gold ever mined.
Chasing bank accounts from South Africa to Mongolia
Where did Ramaphosa supposedly steal this money from? The affidavit provides details buried in pages of historical anecdotes and confusing financial documents from numerous countries.
But there is a thread tying all these documents together: the White Spiritual Boy Trust.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same trust that ANC veteran and businessman Tokyo Sexwale claimed donated a “heritage fund” worth over R100 trillion to the South African Reserve Bank. According to Sexwale, this was intended for public spending on education and Covid-19 relief.
The affidavit is littered with impossible amounts of money, linked to the White Spiritual Boy Trust. According to the documents there are an astonishing 624 bank accounts all over the world with the account name “White Spiritual Boy”.
These accounts contain money ranging from US$900 billion in a South African account at Nedbank, to US$700 trigintillion in a Mongolian account. That’s 93 zeros – ninety-three zeros! A number so impossibly large it makes “gazillion” sound like a real figure in comparison.
If Sexwale and by extension Fondse are correct, then it means a shadowy foreign family, with more wealth than all on planet earth, decided to donate trillions to South Africa. This money then disappeared while having zero noticeable impact on the global economy. Watch the press conference Sexwale gave to hear the allegations in detail but be warned – it’s over two hours long.
Impossible bank deposits
In a detailed Twitter thread he pointed out inconsistencies in the affidavit against Ramaphosa, including duplicated bank account numbers and “official” documents with suspiciously basic misspellings.
Le Roux told us that some of the deposits Sexwale and Fondse’s documents mention couldn’t have taken place. For example, the affidavit includes a balance in an Investec bank account in 1975.
“If you Google Investec you’ll find it was created in 1974, so it looks fine,” Le Roux explained. “But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll see they didn’t have a banking licence back then. In 1974, when they were created, they were just a financial services company.”
The affidavit also claims that a White Spiritual Boy account with a balance of $700 billion is sitting in Wesbank, an asset-based financial provider. Wesbank offers loans to purchase homes, cars, businesses and other assets. It does not offer typical bank services or accounts with deposit facilities.
Le Roux, who has a financial background, added that none of the documents are actual proof that any transactions took place.
“They’ve been saying ‘here’s a letter confirming that money was transferred’ and to prove that they drown you in information,” he said.
Conspiracy theory promoted by QAnon supporters
If you thought we were done here, wait. The White Spiritual Boy Trust appears to be linked to an online conspiracy theory claiming that there is a secret global banking system stashing away trillions of dollars and manufacturing financial crises in order to steal even more money.
To be clear, 4chan is the same site that has birthed conspiracy theories such as QAnon which claims that former US president Donald Trump is battling elites who are involved in a global Satanic paedophile ring. If even 4Chan are calling the White Spiritual Boy Trust fake, well …
South African Reserve Bank: ‘alleged fund was a scam’
Since the Fondse and Sexwale have made their claims public, the Reserve Bank has rubbished them as being part of a “common scam”. According to the bank, this isn’t the first time someone has claimed a White Spiritual Boy Trust-type fund existed. It probably won’t be the last either.
South Africa’s specialised crime fighting unit, the Hawks, has confirmed that they are investigating the nonsense of a R41 quadrillion heist. We’ll be keeping an eye on what they find. From where we sit it looks increasingly like Sexwale and Fondse’s ultra-wealthy foreign donor family is of the “Nigerian prince” variety.