You will no doubt have read the story about the Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) monarch taking delivery of about 16 Rolls Royces (the exact number varies, depending on which news source you use) and around 80 new BMWs.

My initial reaction was, wow, how can you get hold of so many new Rolls Royces at once?  

Any self respecting rapper wants one, as do the leaders of obscure churches preying on the poor in Africa, so there’s a waiting list. As the first South African journalist to have driven the Rolls Royce Phantom when it was launched in SA back in 2004, I like to think I know a bit about the marque.

I remember the date well because it was the year of the great Indonesian tsunami on 26 December. I had been flown down by BMW to the polo at Kurland near Plettenberg Bay, and, between helicopter trips to and from George airport, I had the Rolls Royce Phantom to play with for three days. It was a wonderful experience and a car that was surprisingly easy to drive, if not to park. It is around six metres long, which makes it difficult to squeeze into small parking bays at shopping centres. But why would you want to do something as vulgar as that when you could just as easily send your footman to do the shopping for you?

On one of the days following the polo, we took the Rolls for a spin along the N2 and decided to turn off at Plett for a coffee somewhere. At that time of year the place is full of the rich and famous of South Africa (or was back then) and there was a 2km queue to get out of Plett.

A long line of gleaming BMW 7s, Mercedes S classes, Jaguars, Range Rovers, Porsches and a few less flashy models were sitting in the summer heat waiting to escape from their holiday paradise. I’m not sure what there is to escape to in high season in Plett, but it must have been tempting enough to persuade normally sane people to sit in a long traffic queue to do so.

I happened to be driving the Rolls that day and decided to open the driver’s window, lean my arm on the polished wood trim of the door ledge and drive very slowly indeed so that the wealthy of Plett could make eye contact with me and get a good look at the only Rolls Royce Phantom in the country with a view to getting their name down on the order list. I have to say that many averted their gaze as I drove by; maybe out of respect but probably out of shame at driving something as cheap as a Mercedes S600 AMG.

The wonderful thing about a Rolls Royce is that it is truly a bespoke car. So you don’t just order one and wait for delivery. You stipulate whether you want a bench seat in the back or whether you want two reclining armchairs. You tell them you want a chilled cocktail cabinet between the two armchairs and you can even order a cigar humidor to be fitted. Naturally this all comes at a price, but when you are ordering something as exotic as a Rolls Royce you really shouldn’t be watching the pennies.

The lead time for delivery varies, but I think we can safely assume that King Mswati ordered his Rolls Royces at least two years before delivery late last month. Maybe they sped things up a bit at Cowdray Park, where the cars are assembled, because it was a bulk order. Since they were apparently gifts for each of his many wives, one assumes that they would all have had a different specification. After all, the last thing you need is a grumpy wife who has been given a car with leopard skin upholstery when she had been hankering after pangolin skin all along. And what about the fittings? One wife might want a high-powered hair dryer in the glove compartment next to the driver’s seat while another may favour a waffle machine. This, as any polygamous husband must know, is but one of the snags of having multiple demanding wives.

One obvious question to be asked is how on earth can Eswatini afford so many luxury cars for the exclusive use of their monarch and his close family? Media reports suggest that the place is what Donald Trump might describe rather uncharitably as ‘a shithole”’ It is not a country known for its dynamic and bustling economy, given that, according to the World Bank, 40% of its citizens exist on the equivalent of $1.90 a day and have a life expectancy of 57 years. Hardly Monaco then, is it?

However, a more pertinent question is how Rolls Royce, which is owned by BMW, could deliver so many luxury vehicles to a buyer who is clearly ripping off his own people for his own selfish gain without questioning the morality of the transaction.

That is the sort of question we should increasingly be asking in South Africa as the law finally swings into action and retrieves a few luxury cars and properties from those who should never have been sold them in the first place. If you are a luxury car dealer and you sell an expensive vehicle for cash to someone you could reasonably be expected to know is unable to afford it then you should also be up for jail time as an accomplice to a crime. In the case of the inappropriately named Lucky Montana, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a man who suddenly buys multiple luxury properties for cash must be up to something dishonest.

Whatever happened to FICA, or does that only apply to the little people?

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the IRR.

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[Picture: By The Car Spy, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18039712]

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David Bullard
After 27 years in financial markets in London and Johannesburg David Bullard had a mid life career change and started writing for the Sunday Times. His "Out to Lunch" column ran for 14 years and was generally acknowledged to be one of the best read columns in SA with a readership of 1.7mln every week. Bullard was sacked by the ST for writing a "racist" column in 2008 and carried on writing for a variety of online publications and magazines. He currently writes for dailyfriend.co.za and politicsweb.co.za.

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