Thursday, June 9, 2022

The president's missing dollars

 Michael - Thursday

Apologies for missing my slot last Thursday. I lost a day last week because Qantas decided the night before to reschedule an early morning flight to an earlier time. What could possibly go wrong? Mind you, it’s not only Qantas. Last weekend KLM decided to cancel all its European flights into Amsterdam. It did “inconvenience” a number of inbound passengers. Like all of them. Meanwhile 200 flights bit the dust over the Memorial Day weekend leaving passengers stranded across the US…

Stan has been having his own issues. Ready to head back to the US for the build up to Bouchercon and the release of our new book, he tested positive for Covid at Copenhagen airport. I’m glad to report that he’s not experiencing bad symptoms and this morning he was negative, but his plans are out the window.

ZOOM doesn’t seem such a bad option after all.

President and Mrs Ramaphosa appropriately dressed at their game farm

But my story isn’t about the joys of airline travel. I have a story of a daring robbery at a home of the President of South Africa, millions of dollars stolen, vigilantes tracking down the crooks, the president blindsided, and ultimately … well, we’ll have to wait and see. It could almost be the start of a story like yesterday’s piece from Kwei. The thing about my story is that it seems to be true, at least to some extent. In early February when President Cyril Ramaphosa was attending a meeting in Ethiopia, a daring gang broke into the lodge at Phala Phala, his very upmarket game and stud farm in the Waterberg, and made off with some large amount of money. Estimates ranged between one and a hundred million dollars. The president has suggested that it was not much above the lower estimate, and currently the figure seems to be around four million. Still, that’s real money.

If this were fiction, the police would be in turmoil over the robbery while reporters hounded them for leads. Every branch of the service would make the robbery its top priority. Et cetera. Well, no. Not quite. In fact, no one said anything to the police, let alone to reporters. The country went about its normal business unaware that a large sum in foreign currency had been lifted from one of the president's residences.

What actually happened after that is unclear. Nothing at all reached the public domain until a senior civil servant, Arthur Fraser – one time spymaster, marched into a Johannesburg police station and laid a complaint against the president for not reporting a crime to the police. In his complaint he alleged that the president’s personal guard, headed by a rather chequered individual, set out to find the culprits and extract the dollars from them by any means necessary. Finally they were punished appropriately by paying each of them the equivalent of $10,000!

So what on Earth is going on?

Arthur Fraser in a good mood
Well, all the mystery buffs reading this will immediately smell corruption. Where were all those dollars obtained and for what? The difficulty with that scenario is that long before he became president, Ramaphosa was one of the richest men in South Africa with wealth in the hundreds of millions of dollars. He certainly doesn’t need to steal, or accept bribes for, a few million. By the way, he made his money quite legitimately and has made anti-corruption a cornerstone of his presidency. As to where the money come from, apparently it was payment for a number of a rare variation of the Cape Oryx antelope, called a Red Oryx, bred on the game farm. In cash? Well, that seems to be not uncommon with game animal transactions and one can only speculate why that might be the case. 

Red Oryx with calf

The complaint alleges that a gang broke in through a downstairs window grabbed the money from a hiding place in a sofa and escaped. So why not alert the police? Was it the embarrassment of so much loose cash lying around? Concern about the image of a country where not even the president is safe? The pathetic security? It all seems far-fetched.

However, a previous head of your intelligence service is a bad enemy to make. Right after reporting the matter to the police, Fraser released all his material to the media, and they had a field day. Below is a video clip they put on line. (I've no idea if it's genuine, but it seems realistic enough to be from security cameras. Yes, the security systems filmed the robbery.)

Video from IOL news service.

The complaint itself is silly. There is no law requiring one to report a theft to the police, although one might be a little concerned about the loss of several million dollars. Although the SA police service doesn’t have a great reputation for solving crime, one might imagine they’d pull out all the stops for the president. Of course, it is illegal to hunt down criminals yourself, kidnap them, and shake them down for your money even if thriller writers find that a great plot line. I bet the $10,000 pay-out would be an unusual twist though.

Zapiro's take on the saga.

The allegations are designed to achieve one thing – the removal of the president. If he is convicted of a serious crime, his own rules will require him to step down from his position as leader of the governing party. And then the Zuma faction can start siphoning off money again under the leadership of their choice of paymaster.

This could be a very expensive Oryx indeed.



  1. Wow. It sounds like the plot line to my gnu story.


    Happy to hear Stan is now testing negative!

  2. Wow. It sounds like the plot line to my gnu story.


    Happy to hear Stan is now testing negative!