Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART
Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART

With all the news of corruption and payments of large amounts from the State Security Agency (SSA), former ANC parliamentary whip and defence committee chair Tony Yengeni stands out as a lonely figure.

Yengeni was convicted of fraud for not declaring a discount of 47% on a luxury Mercedes-Benz 4x4 in 1998, arranged for him by a bidder in SA’s arms contract. Yengeni actually spent four months of his four-year sentence in jail in 2006 and 2007.

Fast-forward to 2020 and 2021 and we hear about billions of rand being misappropriated and wasted in testimony before the Zondo state-capture commission. Testimony about conduct at the SSA gives the impression that the agency served as a personalised ATM for many in the ANC and other official structures.

The SSA cannot account for large amounts entrusted to it, including R9bn. To give some context: R9,000,000,000 is enough to build 180,000 low cost houses for homeless South Africans.

The question that automatically follows is how many people have been convicted, or even charged, for this misappropriation by the SSA? The astonishing answer is none. Unfortunately, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is known neither for efficiency nor effectiveness, let alone for charging large numbers of fraudsters who stole government funds.

Yengeni is an unfortunate figure in this sad story. He took a 47% discount on a Mercedes-Benz SUV and went to jail, while others misappropriated R9bn and remain free. At what point does a criminal deserve sympathy for being short-changed? It becomes obvious that it is risky to steal small amounts in SA — rather go for billions. SA simply no longer has the ability to prosecute frauds of that size. 

This inability extends beyond the public sector. Markus Jooste of Steinhoff fame has also not been charged with any crime more than three years after the biggest corporate collapse in SA’s history. Jooste has simply stated that he made “some big mistakes”. Not one board member of Steinhoff at the time of the collapse has come forward to offer any coherent explanation for what happened. Steinhoff shareholders suffered immensely as a result of these “mistakes”; Jooste remains a wealthy man.

In evidence at the Zondo inquiry it was also disclosed that numerous individuals received money and gifts of varying value. While the NPA may not be effective, it has not sat on its hands in response to evidence emerging from the commission. Angelo Agrizzi, the whistle-blower who spilled the beans about fraudulent conduct by Bosasa and payoffs to various politicians and officials, was duly charged. The politicians involved, not so much. So much for the future of whistle-blowers in SA.

It transpired that some people received gifts that included Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, while other settled for Johnnie Walker Double Black. Any serious whisky connoisseur can explain the major difference in price between Blue and Double Black. Now picture the recipients. People who settled for Double Black now know who received Blue. Surely the Double Blacks must feel a bit short-changed?

The same applies to fraudulent cash payments. Some received “pocket money” in five-digit amounts (R40,000 to R60,000 in many cases), while others walked away with millions. And all these people must envy the few who got away with billions. It must be sad to see your self-esteem evaporating before your eyes when realising you settled for small change.

• Rossouw is a professor at the Wits Business School. He writes in his personal capacity.

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