Silent Cyril just has to wait for the VBS robbers to slip up
He can't just fire corrupt and corruptible people, but his nemeses have enough rope to hang themselves
Almost exactly a year ago I told you a tale about a small mining town at the end of a railroad, in which the townsfolk woke up to discover that their bank had been cleaned out by the Gupta Gang, aided and abetted by none other than the bank’s manager, Laughing Jake.
At that stage the bank’s deputy, Silent Cyril, was punting himself as an honest and reliable replacement, which struck me as very odd. As I wrote at the time, if Silent Cyril knew about the crime and didn’t act, then he was complicit. If he was powerless to act, then he was almost completely useless as a bank manager. And if he didn’t realise it was happening, he’s a moron.
As it turns out, there might have been another option: Silent Cyril knew and did nothing because he was giving Laughing Jake enough rope to hang himself with, using the town’s money and morale as collateral.
It was a fantastically dangerous gamble. If Jake and the Guptas were fingered before the town went broke or descended into violence, Cyril’s plan would work. If Jake hung on long enough, the town would be termite food and tumbleweed.
Last week the town was in uproar again: a new gang had rolled into town and blasted its way into the VBS Mutual Bank, and the first sketches of the robbers were being nailed up on the courthouse door.
(As an aside: Thuli Madonsela has urged the EFF to investigate its involvement in the heist, suggesting that squillions allegedly paid to Brian Shivambu have raised “red flags”. With all due respect to Madonsela, all the EFF does is raise red flags, usually literally, often in lieu of policy. If you want to get their attention, you need to raise a blue flag, or mention Juju’s time in Limpopo, or ask them to explain who will pay for their utopian election promises.)
Once again, the townsfolk are asking themselves what Silent Cyril knew and when he knew it, after sources “close to a major VBS shareholder” suggested he was aware of the heist while it was happening. Once again he is saying he knew nothing.
I don’t know if Ramaphosa knew about the extent of state capture. I don’t know if he knew that VBS was being robbed.
I do know, however, that Ramaphosa is fighting for his political life and that the immediate future of SA depends on the outcome of that fight. If he buys himself some time and breathing space, we stagger on for a while. If he fails, and is flicked aside by the corruption machine that is the modern ANC, we’re over.
I also know that if I were a leader who couldn’t summarily fire corrupt and corruptible people because I needed to look like a consensus-seeker, but was under constant threat from said scumbags – career predators who can smell money the way sharks smell blood in the water – I might just look the other way for a few months while they made merry and made themselves vulnerable to prosecution.
I’m not suggesting that any of Ramaphosa’s nemeses will be taken down by the VBS scandal. But it is important to remember that at the level of national politics in SA, a major bank robbery isn’t just a heist.
It is the culmination of months or even years of promises, alliances and betrayals. Most importantly for those whose enemies can’t resist other people’s money, a bank robbery is a length of rope.
And if you’re a banker in the Badlands who can’t make waves, all you need to do is claim ignorance, stay cleaner than the robbers, and wait for the alarms to go off.