In a land of startling figures, some startling figures have been doing the rounds of late. The auditor-general says irregular expenditure among South Africa’s 257 municipalities has jumped to R28bn. That’s big. Then again, it’s also not that big. After all, it’s only half of what SARS last estimated the tax revenue shortfall to be: R50bn. That’s bigger, although that, in turn, is actually only half of the amount Pravin Gordhan conservatively estimates "state capture" cost the country — a whopping R100bn. R100bn is really big, no question. There are few R100bn numbers out there. "Nenegate", for example, is estimated to have cost the Public Investment Corporation R100bn; others say R500bn. A fair whack went missing one way or the other. That’s money gone through political incompetence and economic uncertainty. But there are other ways for money to vanish and even bigger sums. In 2014, for example, Fin24 estimated SA’s banks had "written off or made provisions to write off debt of more...

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