Kgosie Matthews, Where Are You?

Posted October 28, 2003 at 6:07pm

As far as knights in shining armor go, Kgosie Matthews, former campaign manager and onetime fiancé to Democratic presidential candidate Carol Moseley Braun, left much to be desired.

There were the allegations of campaign finance improprieties and extravagant spending, and accusations he sexually harassed campaign workers during Braun’s successful 1992 bid for Senate in Illinois.

Then there was the time in 1996 he convinced then-Senator Braun to take a very ill-advised trip to Nigeria — on whose behalf Matthews had lobbied — to rub elbows with the country’s bloody dictator, the late Sani Abacha. This earned Braun rebukes from both human rights organizations and Congressional colleagues.

Less charitable scribes and Braun associates have alternately dubbed the diminutive, bowler hat-wearing Matthews “Rasputin,” “an Armani-wrapped bachelor” and “an asshole.”

Even today several former aides blame Matthews for Braun’s 1998 defeat to now-Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.).

“After the Nigeria trip I would have liked to have found Kgosie and strangled him with my bare hands for destroying all of the hard work my staff and I had done,” said Todd Atkinson, Braun’s former legislative director.

“I just always felt that Kgosie was for Kgosie first,” noted Eric Adelstein, a media consultant to Braun’s 1998 campaign.

By the time Braun was up for re-election in 1998, Matthews, who had once listed Braun’s address as his official residence even though he had been living in South Africa, effectively disappeared.

Poof. Just like that.

Today, Matthews may be gone, but as the old saw goes, he’s hardly forgotten.

The Republican National Committee’s opposition research on Braun includes two items about Matthews under the heading “A Romance and Alliance With A Former Nigerian Agent Sparks Controversy.” No profile of Braun’s long-shot presidential bid is complete without at least one reference to their erstwhile relationship.

Matthews left behind a trail of unanswered questions and unpaid bills, as well as the revelation that while he was earning up to $15,000 a month as Braun’s campaign manager, he was not legally authorized to work in the United States.

Over the years, there have been spottings. Matthews — who once had apartments in New York, London and Johannesburg — is believed to have split his time in recent years between London and South Africa (he is a naturalized British citizen who was born in South Africa).

“He was never a popular figure here in Chicago,” said one Chicago-based Democratic consultant. “From stories I’ve heard they feel the same way about him in South Africa.”

But Braun’s best friend and campaign treasurer, Billie Paige, doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. Paige said she and Braun haven’t discussed Matthews in years.

Braun was last reported to have some communication with Matthews in 1998, but she maintained then that she did not know where he was.

After her loss that November to Fitzgerald, she told the Chicago Tribune, “I probably should have married [Matthews] when he asked me to.”

“I think she would have regretted not marrying anyone she had been fond of at that point,” Paige asserted. “I think it was an immediate emotional response … [he was] the last gentleman she had had a close relationship to.”

As to Matthews’ whereabouts, Paige, who said she has talked to Braun every day for the past 25 years, said she hadn’t a clue.

“I really don’t know,” Paige said. “I wish everybody would get over this obsession.”

Despite his reputation, Matthews boasts a distinguished family background. His grandfather, Zachariah Keodirelang Matthews, was a founder of the African National Congress, and his father, Vincent Joseph Matthews, serves as South Africa’s deputy minister for safety and security. Both were exiled and imprisoned during the apartheid era, and Kgosie Matthews grew up in Botswana and Great Britain.

Matthews’ involvement in U.S. politics dates back to the 1980s, when he met the Rev. Jesse Jackson at an anti-apartheid rally in London. He later served as Jackson’s road manager for his 1988 presidential campaign, earned a master’s in public administration from Harvard University and completed a stint in government relations at American Express.

Matthews and Braun were briefly engaged, but they broke it off within a year of her arrival in the Senate.

While Braun and Matthews continued an on-again, off-again personal relationship, his involvement in her life was clearly a sensitive subject.

One former intern who served in the Braun Senate office early on in her term recalled that “if any caller or visitor to the Senator’s office asked about him we were to simply say that he did not work for the Senator at all and that he had no relationship with her office.”

Judging from the curt response to calls placed last week to South Africa’s Ministry for Safety and Security, where Matthews’ father works, not much has changed in the intervening years.

An assistant answering Deputy Minister Matthews’ phone said she did not know where his son Kgosie lived, or even if he was in the country.

“He does not come to this office,” she said.