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It's a Cruel World

It’s a Cruel World

by Brandon Edmonds, image by Conrad Botes / 06.11.2009

Another installment of our Mahala series on South Africa’s top 10 crimes.

A 2007 Price-Waterhouse-Coopers global economic crime survey found that South Africa had the highest number of affected companies. Money laundering, bribery and fraud apparently abound here like nowhere else on earth. ‘White collar’ crime is certainly keeping pace with bloodier variations of transgression, spurred on by weak accountancy controls, murky corporate ethics, greed, expensive lifestyles and deep career frustration. A staggering 72% of companies polled experienced an economic crime over 2005-2007 which meant around R600 million smackers purloined from the economy. White collar crime was 200% higher locally than the global average. Confirming that social rot goes all the way to the top, the survey indicates that “figureheads in SA businesses are responsible for 17% of all reported cases” and that “most frauds tend to be risk-takers, very decisive, extroverted, career or success oriented individuals… paradoxically traits that are so highly prized in management recruitment.” The moral distance between an MBA sporting fraudster and a gun-toting illiterate car-jacker has never been slimmer. They’re two sides of the same amoral coin in a business culture that rewards risk.

Image © and courtesy Conrad Botes

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  1. djf says:

    Normally I have a lot of regard for Brandon Edmonds’ pieces, but this one in combination with his recent post on Chris Hani appears to insinuate a pespective on South Africa’s problems that is quite one-sided and misleading. There’s a not-so-subtle suggestion that private enterprise and the wealth disparities that this can cause lie at the heart of the sicknesses that plague our nation. I would like to offer an alternative view – that a malfunctioning and poorly managed government is causing far more misery than the private sector could ever inflict on the population of South Africa.

    Tokyo Sexwale was interviewed on the radio a couple of days back in his capacity as the new Minister of Housing (or some other fancy name that they now give to this function). He openly admitted that corruption in his department was rife and that 800 goverment employees had already been prosecuted (not suspected, indicted or suspended but PROSECUTED) for corrupt activity in the building of new homes for the poor. As a result these buildings were unsafe and it was going to take an extra amount of money way in excess of the “R600 million smackers” Edmonds quotes above to fix up this mess. That’s the fruit of corruption and mismanagement in ONE governement department – we haven’t even begun to talk about the financial fall-out in other areas such as Defense and Home Affairs.

    Where does the money for the funding of these folleys come from? It gets provided by the private sector – hard-working, imaginative and initiative-driven people of all social and income brackets who deserve much more from their government, especially in the areas of safety and public amenities. Tokyo Sexwale was one of those people before he rejoined government. The best solution that the left-wing in this country can offer is to nationalise Sexwale’s fortune accrued in the private sector. I find it deeply ironic that he should be targeted as a figurehead of greed and social disregard when he is one of the very few ministers who is coming clean with the public about the shortcomings in our government.

    We desperately need to separate political rhetoric from administrative fact in such cases. The philosophy behind society’s motives for wealth creation and distribution should not serve as a smokescreen for very clear manifestations of greed and incompetence on the ground.

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  2. brandon edmonds says:

    Appreciate the smart response. Really do. I wasn’t ‘insinuating’ anything.I’ll fucking yell it out loud! Take a listen: I wholeheartedly believe ‘private enterprise’ and the ‘wealth disparities’ it inevitably, undoubtedly and ineluctably causes is directly to blame for our ‘sick’ nation! I believe in socialism. Not the corrupt Stalinist version that emerged in the 1930s and resulted in loo paper deficits but dynamic collectives of local people getting together to rationally order their lives. The market shouldn’t take priority over our social needs: needs like water, education and health care. We have ought to be able to decide what we need and what it should cost for ourselves. You’re right about the crime of ongoing government corruption of course. It is a major threat to our democratic achievements. Our media at least shines a light on government graft on a fairly regular basis. What we don’t see enough of is the exposure of corporate corruption and crime. That’s what my piece was about. Corporate and government crime intertwine. They feed off each other in a country that represses the promise of the RDP and ignores the suffering of millions living way below the breadline…

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  3. Phalafala says:

    Yoh! Take that, round one Brandon Edmonds. DJF, your thinking smacks of Tony Leonism. It’s liberal, not revolutionary. You defend the private sector and point fingers at the government – as if the two spheres are totally independent of each other. The biggest power broker in the world right now is the axis between big business and governments aka the global military-industrial complex.

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  4. djf says:

    Eish Phalawhatsit – I won’t accuse you of Stalinist thinking if you’d be kind enough not to associate me with Tony Leon, okay? I think those two comparisons are in much the same ball park as far as their inaccuracies are concerned. And let’s not reduce debates such as this to winner vs loser status when the things at stake are too important and complex to reduce to such vulgar absolutes – the same absolutes that are sometimes held up as necessary capitalist outcomes when society in general is not the biggest beneficiary?

    I’m certainly not disagreeing with the ethics and morality of what is being expressed here. Elements of socislism have demonstrated their worth in other countries and you’d have to be pretty damn insensitive not to see the value in the USA taking greater state control of health care for the vast majority of its citizens.

    But you get to the point where discussion needs to shift from the ideological to the practical. Ideology alone does not create meaningful employment or put food on the table. If you are pro greater socialism in South Africa today, that means moving more economic activity away from the private sector and under state management. This is the aspect that I attempted to address in my first comment – the goverment has displayed such poor ability at managing what it already controls that we should seriously question the wisdom of moving more in its direction. Consider the state of health care and public transport in SA today. Consider the poor performance of parastatals such as Eskom and Telkom and their failure to deliver what is needed by the population and the economy. Do you want the same people and the same management structures to take control of MORE in this country?

    The state is even struggling to provide effective regulation of an intrinsically capitalist economy – failing to make timeous and prudent decisions in areas such as telecommunications, thereby hampering the ability of private enterprise to move efficiently into areas of need where all citizens would benefit. As managers and strategists these people would not last very long in the private sector. You may not like the aura of dog-eat-dog greed that appears to permeate private enterprise, but at least it does a far better job of putting the most capable and efficient people in the most important positions and holding them meaningfully accountable for their performance.

    Yes, my arguments are probably far more liberal than revolutionary. The concept of revolution in a free and democratic society such as ours where the government has been chosen by the vast majority of citizens is indeed puzzling. Why would it be necessary? Why can’t we all work together under a framework of healthy goverment policy and regulation to build this country for the benefit of all? Why is there this urge to destroy so much of what has been established by legitimate means in the vain hope that it will lead to greater productivity and equality? Just like ideology, revolution alone does not put food on the table – hard work and smart decisions do that. Let’s try and find a social framework that maximises these things too.

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