Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|June 6, 2022|3 Minutes|In Editor's Desk

Editor’s Desk

The African billionaire and the Roman Empire.

The odd ways billionaires spend their hard-earned cash have never ceased to amaze me. It seems the more money you make, the more bizarre your purchases become.  A splurge by African billionaire Koos Bekker, that made headlines this week, made me want to delve a little deeper.

I hope all of you billionaires of tomorrow across Africa are thinking about what you will do with your fortunes in 30 years’ time. Or, maybe five years only if you are in fintech in West Africa!

The precedents are mind-boggling. South African born billionaire Elon Musk spent nearly a million dollars on a cinema memory  when he bought the Lotus Elan that converted its wheels into fins,  to drive underwater, in the James Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Now this is capital appreciation for you. A collector found the car in a shed, back in 1989, and bought it for $100.

Speaking of appreciating values Hedge fund manager Steve Cohen bought a  14-foot shark pickled  in alcohol – an art exhibit worth more than $8 million in 2004. In 1992 it was valued at a mere $93,000.

Other billionaire purchases make you question the shrewd, money making, minds that made them. Roman Ambramovich bought Chelsea ; Jeff Bezos took a risk in the unreliable world of media when he bought the Washington Post. Surprisingly, the billionaire said he didn’t do any due diligence and accepted the first number the sellers suggested.

The Koos Bekker purchase was as intriguing as it was unusual. Bekker made his billions from everything from news outfit Naspers and a 29% stake in Chinese tech and entertainment company Tencent.

Bekker and his wife Karen, along with a country house hotel, have spent a slice of his fortune building Britain’s closest reconstruction of a 4th century Roman villa.  The villa, near Bruton in Somerset, has been built on an 800-acre site next to the ruins of the original Villa Ventorium, built in 351 a few decades before the Roman legions left, according to the Times of London.

Hundreds of builders, architects, and archaeologists worked for years to ensure the villa had the correct mosaics, frescos, and even the right ancient Roman plumbing. The villa also has underfloor heating that would have warmed the feet of the Roman occupiers of Britain in Emperor Constantine’s day – the only working example in Europe.

Big ups to billionaire Bekker for preserving a beautiful piece of European history. Laudable.  A gentle reminder, also, that there are many equally important African historical sites that could also do with the investment of a billionaire.