Look beyond VBS


21 June 2020

Now gun for the Steinhoff crooks, all state capturers

Spanish-set Netflix television series Money Heist, credited for subverting the heist genre as it’s uncharacteristically told from the perspective of a woman, Tokyo (Ursula Corbero), has captured the hearts and minds of people across the globe.

The Italian anti-fascist song Bella Ciao, the theme song of the Emmy Award-winning series, became popular across America, Europe and here at home much like the main character, the Professor (Alvaro Morte), who is the mastermind behind the heist at the Royal Mint of Spain.

The thing about the success of the series is, for me, not just the fascination with crime, but the archetypal sort of crime and unending quest for justice. Human beings are generally suckers for unusual, sophisticated plots and a bucket load of rolling emotions.

Where we do not get this sophistry on the small box in South Africa, our real-life dramas, especially on the political scene, unleash a series of emotive episodes that, like Money Heist, capture the attention of millions.

The arrest this week of those at the centre of one of the top five post-apartheid corruption scandals has elicited relief and joy in some quarters, and consternation in others.

Relief because many, like me, who are still hopeful that the criminal justice system works and eventually will deliver that cardinal virtue – justice – saw it creak into motion this week. VBS represents a criminal enterprise that not only robbed the poor elderly of their savings, but also robbed investors and municipalities of funds for service delivery. So naturally, those behind the brazen endeavour that has disadvantaged so many ought correctly to face the consequences.

When all is said and done, when we look back at the VBS saga in 15 years’ time, we must collectively be able to say the poor elderly whose savings were siphoned off in what Terry Motaung calls the Great Bank Heist, received justice. While it’s improbable that they will receive all their funds, they must, at the very least, know that those who collapsed their bank have suffered the consequences of their actions. And, to boot, have been visited by the asset forfeiture unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

At the same time, others, possessed perhaps by a perverse joy, are celebrating the demise of the “Ocean’s 8” behind the VBS saga. Yes, we do conflate arrest with conviction. This is why sometimes we make calls for suspects to be denied bail as if that is some type of punishment when, in law, bail is merely used to secure a suspect’s court attendance.

Elsewhere, the arrest has unleashed consternation. Well, not out of pity for the accused. But because the mind, without all the answers, will always wonder. Other times, it just wanders. There is consternation because there is a yearning to see others, like the white brains behind Steinhoff and State Capture, in chains.

The press conference by head of the Hawks Godfrey Lebeya and national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi was not only a show of force, it was also a confidence booster for the criminal justice system. It was meant to send a signal that they will come after the mighty and powerful. Lebeya’s repeated reference to the fact that the investigation is not yet complete and they will, without fear or favour, go where the evidence points them to, is important. Decoded, this reference was meant to send a message to EFF politicians who have repeatedly been fingered. Let me be clear: If Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu have illegally benefitted from VBS, they must, like the eight arrested, face the music.

While we celebrate that there might be justice in the R2.1-billion VBS saga, we must remember that Steinhoff wiped off R200-billion from the JSE in the biggest corporate fraud case often referred to as Steinheist. Importantly, the fraud in the company led by Marcus Jooste and Christo Wiese, like the VBS heist, wiped out many people’s pensions.

For too long the face of corruption in our country has been black even when we knew that both white and black people were united in feeding from the trough. The Hawks, supported by the NPA, must develop the balls to tackle the big boys. Show us that “no fear or
favour” is not just a slogan.

It is easy to assume that VBS was an easy pick because the politicians allegedly involved are in the opposition. The only senior leader, former president Jacob Zuma, who was granted a R7.6-million loan to pay for his home refurbishments, is a spent cartridge. His immediate challenge is to escape his own fraud and corruption trial, which is days away.

The arrest of the VBS gang this week is a much-welcome shot in the arm in the fight against fraud and corruption. The Hawks and the NPA must be congratulated. The important test, however, is proving the guilt of those arrested. At the same time, the Hawks and the NPA must be told that easy victories aside, the real culprits, the Steinhoff and State Capture players must, without party political considerations or irrational fear of so-called white monopoly capital, face the music soon. If VBS looters can be arrested before investigations are complete, why not Steinhoff and State Capture players?

Many of the white-collar crimes in our country, like Money Heist, are archetypal and induce endless emotive episodes. The menace, though, must be fought without fear or favour.

  • Sefara is editor of Sunday World. Engage him on @Sefara_Mak



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