Kazadi emigrated to South Africa as a child from DR Congo and built a digital marketing agency in his adopted country. In early May last year, the 29-year-old died under murky circumstances.
On April 28, 2022, Christian Kazadi was enjoying a sunrise safari in Botswana. Sporting a corduroy fleece jacket, shorts and white sneakers in an Instagram post from that day, Kazadi smiles as he leans back on a jeep, calling it a “bucket list experience.”
The 29-year-old founder of Johannesburg, South Africa-based digital marketing agency Click Media was in Botswana to attend the first ever Forbes Under 30 Africa summit. It was a professional milestone for Kazadi, who had launched Click Media in 2016 with the last $30 in his bank account and bootstrapped it into a thriving business that ran social media campaigns for clients ranging from ESPN and Adidas to the National Basketball Association and KFC. Kazadi, who had yet to appear on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, was thrilled to have been awarded a spot at the conference.
But that Instagram post was his last. Four days later, he was found dead in police custody 1,100 miles away in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A year later, Kazadi’s mysterious death remains unsolved. His family is still trying to piece together what happened to him between April 30—when he was set to return to South Africa—and May 2, when he died in Kinshasa. Investigations in South Africa and DR Congo are at a standstill, and no one—not the airport officials in South Africa that denied his entry nor the Congolese police that may have been involved in his death—has provided any answers.
“He never made it back home from the Forbes event,” says Patrick Kazadi, Christian’s younger brother and cofounder and CEO of Click Media. “[We need] answers so the family can finally finish the grieving process and put the people who did this to justice.”
During his brief time in Botswana, Kazadi’s energy and entrepreneurial spirit made him stand out among his peers. “Even those who met him over the few days of the summit will convey how deeply they were touched by him,” says Pholo Kimbuende, a senior management consultant at consulting firm Guidehouse, who met Kazadi at the Forbes Under 30 event. “The future just looked so bright, and the circumstances around his death were just utterly devastating.”
The mystery began on April 30, when Kazadi’s flight from Botswana landed in Johannesburg at 10:45 am. He wasn’t allowed to enter South Africa, despite having lived in the country since 2001 and possessing a valid work visa that ran from 2020 to 2023. Forbes spoke to multiple friends and family members of Kazadi who confirmed he had previously traveled from South Africa to other African countries before and had never had any issues returning, although it is not entirely uncommon for immigrants to have difficulties at the South African border. Forbes also called and spoke to several officials at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, but they didn’t provide any information on Kazadi and instead referred questions to South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. Home Affairs suggested that the family file a public records request, which they did but have yet to receive a response.
Kazadi was then made to book a flight to Kinshasa, DR Congo the following day. He arrived just past midnight on May 2. A Congolese citizen, Kazadi was born in the country but hadn’t been back since leaving with his family in 2001, when they emigrated to South Africa to seek asylum as refugees.
“There’s foul play at hand. He was in Congo for less than 24 hours and he was murdered.”Patrick Kazadi
Later that day, a bizarre video appeared online, showing Kazadi behaving erratically at a funeral in Kinshasa. The video appears to show Kazadi getting inside the casket with his headphones on and shouting “Guelor,” the name of the deceased person at the funeral—who Kazadi apparently did not know, although Guelor happens to be the name of one of Kazadi’s younger brothers. People then appeared to surround him and drag him away from the casket. Kazadi was arrested at the funeral and held in a detention center, where a family friend went to check up on him on the night of May 2.
The next morning, Kazadi was dead. “There’s foul play at hand,” says Patrick. “He was in Congo for less than 24 hours and he was murdered.”
Photos and videos provided by Kazadi’s family and seen by Forbes show Kazadi lying on what appears to be a road, shirtless and with deep cuts and welts on his head, arms, chest and feet indicating that he may have been tortured. In one of the photos, a Congolese policeman or soldier is seen standing in the background.
A member of the family that was hosting the funeral, who had urged the police to arrest him at the time, was called into the police station about a week after his death and gave the police her phone number. When they tried to get in touch with her in the following days, the police told Kazadi’s family that the number was disconnected.
Kazadi’s family told Forbes that the police officers who arrested him were briefly detained in May last year as local authorities investigated what happened, but no charges have been filed. Unfortunately, death at the hands of the police isn’t uncommon in DR Congo. 133 people died in detention in the country in the first six months of 2022, according to the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office.
A year after Kazadi’s death, the investigation has gone nowhere. Captain Parfait and Colonel Honoré of the Congolese National Police, the officers in charge of the investigation in the Matete district of Kinshasa, have told the Kazadi family’s lawyer that the case file for the investigation has gone missing. Neither responded to questions from Forbes about the status of the investigation.
“If it was the police that murdered him, of course they would get rid of the docket,” says Patrick. “The court case hasn’t even started because they currently can’t locate the docket file.”
In South Africa, Kazadi’s mother submitted a public records request to the Department of Home Affairs last July for information on why he was denied entry into the country. Under South African law, government agencies must respond to requests within 30 days, with the option of a single extension of no more than 30 additional days. But 296 days after the family initially submitted its request—and despite being repeatedly contacted by both Forbes and Kazadi’s family over the course of several months—the ministry has yet to provide an update.
Still, asylum seekers and immigrants with visas often face harassment from South African authorities. In its 2022 human rights report on South Africa, the U.S. State Department wrote that “security forces arbitrarily arrested migrants and asylum seekers, including those with proper documentation, often because police were unfamiliar with migrant and asylum documentation.”
The lack of progress on the investigations has also resulted in plenty of conspiracy theories online, with YouTube videos viewed more than a million times speculating that Kazadi was drugged or part of a cult. “They have a lot of incorrect facts,” says Patrick. “A lot of people in Congo don’t know what is going on.”
Ever since he arrived in South Africa at age 9 in 2001, Christian Kazadi worked hard to improve his life. He emigrated to Johannesburg with his mother and younger brothers to join his father, Samuel, a pastor and IT teacher who had already been living there for two years. Tragedy struck in 2007 when Samuel died while on a business trip to DR Congo, leaving the family without a breadwinner. (The cause of death isn’t known.)
The local church raised money to pay for the family’s rent, and his mother started selling clothes and toys at a flea market. But his father’s death forced Christian—then just 15 years old—to help provide for his family. He sold snacks at school during the week and packed meat at a grocery store on the weekends with his younger brother Patrick. Eventually he convinced the store to hire his mother as a cleaner, so she could stay closer to home instead of traveling to sell goods at different markets.
“It was nothing like close to minimum wage, but it was constant,” says Patrick. “That’s what started Chris’ mentality for entrepreneurship and hustling.”
Those wages helped them move to a larger house in 2011, where the family of five shared one room and subleased the other three rooms to make extra money. Chris was also a strong athlete in high school, placing in national competitions for track and field and basketball.
“We would sit at home and cut boxes and stack them up and put them as soles in our shoes,” says Patrick. “He would walk five kilometers to the closest court and play ball.”
Kazadi’s dream was to play professionally in the NBA, and he wrote in his application for the Forbes Under 30 event that he won a scholarship to play college basketball in New York after graduating from high school in 2012—but his family couldn’t afford to pay for his trip to the U.S.
There also wasn’t enough money for Chris to attend college at home, and they couldn’t apply for government scholarships that were reserved for South African citizens. Instead he kept working at butcheries, making about 300 rand—roughly $30 at the time—in tips on a good day and doing other odd jobs like frying meat. He also landed an unpaid internship managing social media for South African professional basketball player KP Ndlovu that year, running the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts for his company Loqdown Productions, which organizes basketball tournaments for young players in Johannesburg.
“Chris was a warrior and a soldier. I’m so proud of what he did and the legacy and empire he built and left behind.”Joe Arrangement
Kazadi’s luck started to turn the following year, when South Africa launched the professional Basketball National League (BNL). His work for Ndlovu caught the attention of FX Productions, a small marketing agency that managed social media for the BNL. He got hired to create social media content for the league, earning enough money to support his family and allow his mother to quit her cleaning job.
By January 2016, Kazadi was ready to strike out on his own. Against his mother’s wishes, he quit his job to take advantage of his own connections with the league and its teams to launch his own marketing firm. As an asylum seeker at the time, he couldn’t register the company himself. So he relied on a South African friend and used his entire savings—$30 at the time—to register the new company, which he named Click Media Productions.
His first idea was to host basketball tournaments, using his connections at the BNL to convince brands to sponsor his events. But the costs of organizing them—paying for kits, referees and venues—added up, leaving Kazadi in debt. So he turned back to focusing on social media, eventually making enough money to pay back the debt.
By 2017, the firm had grown enough that it was hosting regular tournaments. The first big break came that year, when Click Media handled digital marketing for the NBA Africa Game, which brought NBA stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Luol Deng to play in Johannesburg.
That growth allowed him to make his first hires to manage the firm’s new clients, which began to sign long-term contracts with Click Media. “This was my first official job, and it’s all because of Chris,” says Kaymo Moeti, who worked as a social media manager at Click Media from 2017 to 2018 and now runs marketing for a hip hop festival. “Everything that I learned, I learned from him. He’s the one that really taught me what I knew to help me get those opportunities.”
Click Media worked on the next NBA Africa Game in 2018, and the exposure helped put the company on the map, leading to new social media campaigns for clients ranging from ride-hailing app Bolt to rapper Lil Yachty. That same year, he obtained a South African work visa through Click Media. In December 2021, the company was named the best digital marketing agency in Johannesburg at the MEA Business Awards, organized by MEA Markets, a business publication focused on the Middle East and Africa.
“Chris was a warrior and a soldier,” says Joe Arrangement, a musician and music promoter who worked with Kazadi and Click Media. “I’m so proud of what he did and the legacy and empire he built and left behind.”
In March 2022, Click Media ran a social media campaign for cognac brand Hennessy and the NBA at a basketball court in Zoo Lake, Johannesburg. In an Instagram post from the video shoot, Kazadi hyped it up for his followers: “We got something really exciting coming to Zoo Lake soon,” he wrote. “With some of your favorite celebrities.”
Two months later, he was gone.
Click Media is now run by his brother Patrick, who wants to carry Christian’s legacy forward and keep growing the company until it achieves his vision of becoming the top digital marketing agency in Africa.
“As the CEO of Click Media, with the good God’s grace and blessing, I will complete that which we started,” Patrick said in an emotional tribute to his brother at his memorial service last June. “Kazadi lives.”
The Kazadi family has a GoFundMe page to raise funds to pay for legal fees for investigating Christian’s death and to provide financial support for the family.
By Giacomo Tognini, Forbes Staff