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Cyril and his “mattress” millions

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Cyril and his “mattress” millions

It’s unclear just how much respect president Cyril Ramaphosa lost recently when it was revealed that millions in foreign currency were stolen from his Limpopo farm, Phala Phala. The president has been rather quiet about the whole thing, saying only that he traded animals and that’s why the cash wasn’t turned into rands, as is meant to be the case.

About a week after the news broke – following the coverup being ousted by former State Security Agency and Correctional Services director-general Arthur Fraser, who laid criminal charges against the CEO of SA Inc. – the president clammed up, saying he was doing so on the advice of his lawyers. Ramaphosa, you see, did not report the theft, instead choosing to ask his head of the Presidential Protection Unit, Major-General Wally Rhoode, to investigate the matter.

Ramaphosa was once a bastion of hope for South Africans who were fed up with the damage caused on the South African economy by state capture. Especially when the country seems to have been run by Indian brothers. The Guptas had far too much say in what then president Jacob Zuma did and his appointments. Remember that disastrous few days when Nhlanhla Nene was replaced by weekend special David van Rooyen in December 2015. Van Rooyen was pretty much an unknown quantity, and this resulted in the rand falling out of bed and billions in value (R169.9 billion) being wiped off the JSE.

Zuma quickly capitulated and put a pair of safer hands in charge of South Africa’s coffers, a favourite of investors, Pravin Gordhan.

But back to Ramaphosa. In political circles, and in the minds of South Africans who follow the news, Ramaphosa will have toppled from his pedestal, his statue covered in pigeon poop, and his image tarnished by dents and bumps.

Ramaphosa is not alone

Ramaphosa is not alone in having breached forex regulations. Haven’t we all done it? Kept a few hundred pounds, euros, or dollars at home after a trip in case the rand plummets, again.

We all commit small crimes everyday: We don’t stop at a four-way stop street when no-one else is there. We run red lights when it’s super late, or early, and there is no traffic – and, likely, when we have had too much to drink. Many of us smuggled cigarettes when they were illegal under COVID-19 lockdown level five (profiting nicely without declaring that to the taxman).

We typically travel about 10km/hr just above the limit when on freeways because we know speedos in cars are set just a bit below what we see on the clock, and radars have a bit of leeway. Let’s face it, policing in this South Africa is so bad, and AARTO is not only unenforceable but has been endlessly delayed, these crimes are unlikely to result in convictions.

Small crimes are like small lies, it doesn’t matter what size they are, it’s still a lie. Breaching the law in small ways is still a crime. While the penalty varies from crime-to-crime, murder will get you more inside time than speeding, which will result in a fine, they are a crime. Why stop there at speeding?

Small crimes add up and become big crimes. It’s like a snowball, gathering speed as it grows down a hill. That’s why they say things snowball out of control.

A potential solution

In New York, mayor Rudolph Giuliani – in charge of the city in the 1990s recognised this fact and clamped down on everything from littering to graffiti. The National Bureau of Economic Research’s January 2003 digest looked into what effects the mayor’s “broken windows” policy had on broader societal ills.

Giuliani’s approach, in a bid to cut down on crime across the city, was to increase policing of those crimes that we may consider inconsequential. He believed that the little things snowballed into larger issues. In 1998, the mayor was quoted as saying: “Obviously murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other.”

As a result, the mayor’s administration is largely credited with an overall reduction in offences. During the ten years the policy was in effect, arrests for minor wrong doings in the city – in the US a misdemeanour – declined 70 percent. Robberies dropped 2.5 to 3.2 percent, and motor vehicle theft declined by 1.6 to 2.1 percent.

While there are those who argue that this policy did not, in fact, reduce crime, as discussed in the digest, the simple fact is that little offences have become endemic in our culture. As a result, backhanders to secure tenders are the norm. Brown envelopes passed under the table if you will.

We have, as a country, lost some R1.5 trillion to state capture, according to Daily Maverick. Add in those small infringements as we’re looking at many more trillions. That’s many many houses, jobs, maintenance of roads, and funding so Eskom can keep the lights on.

If we follow Ramaphosa’s lead, and ignore rules and regulations, we will end up in a worse spiral that will adversely affect all of us. Currently, crime affects so badly that the economy is faltering. It ends when everyone takes a stance and says “no” to buying a cop a coke when caught speeding.