Corruption in South Africa

Anybody following this blog knows that I absolutely love South Africa. It has a lot of great things going for it, and I have told you about most of them, repeatedly. To the point that some might accuse me of wearing rose-tinted glasses.

Well, let me tell you about one thing I absolutely hate about South Africa: Corruption. Or actually, I’m not even sure corruption is the best word. Thievery, more like it. There are a lot of people in South Africa who think that it’s perfectly fine to take something that’s not theirs. There are also a lot of honest people, to be sure, but this article won’t be about them.

It can happen to you anywhere.

  • You get your car back from the repair shop, and all the CDs, including the one that was currently in the stereo, are gone. So is the small change you kept in the console as tip money. The only time you’ll get your car back without anything missing is when you’ve already stripped it of anything valuable yourself before dropping it off. Because the car dealership made you sign a form attesting that you did just that. 
  • You come to a traffic light – excuse me, robot – that’s out of order, and you don’t even pause to think why this might be, because it is such a commonplace occurrence. If you did pause to think about it and investigate further, you’d learn that very often vital parts, such as SIM cards controlling the traffic lights, get stolen. 
  • You wonder why your internet connection is once again not working, and it turns out the copper wires connecting your neighborhood were carried away. If you’re lucky, they’ll get replaced. If you’re unlucky, Telkom has given up and will no longer replace them. 
  • You drive out into the country and come to what looks like a fourway stop, except there is only one stop sign between the four sides. If you were to look closely into the surrounding community, you might come across a house that has its siding patched up with stop signs. 
  • You get a letter of warning from your neighborhood association informing you that the, ahem, shit pipe connecting Johannesburg to the Northern water treatment plant might begin to leak soon, because its aluminum siding is being removed under cover of night at an alarming rate.

But by far the place where I find theft to be the most annoying (and rampant) is the South African Postal Service. There is just no telling whether something you send to or from South Africa will ever get there. Chances are it won’t. Especially if its shape suggests that something valuable might be in the envelope or package. If you send a simple letter to a friend in South Africa, you might as well not seal it but leave it open for the world to see and inspect, and it might stand a better chance of arriving than if you seal it, forcing whoever is intercepting your mail to actually rip it open to see what’ inside. Because there is no doubt that every single parcel or letter is intercepted and scrutinized for its potential value.

Ha! is all I can say to that.

This past summer while touring Europe, our kids spent a considerable amount of time and effort buying presents they wanted to send to their South African friends. Out of three packages, only one arrived. The one that did we had sent to an office address in England, from where it was couriered by weekly company mail to South Africa, thereby escaping the South African Postal Service altogether. Not a trace remained of the other two. They weren’t even big things and can’t have been of huge value to anyone. In fact, if you must know the truth, one was a condom, sent as a joke. I can only hope that it did its job to improve some South African postal worker’s chances, if ever so slightly, from contracting HIV. In fact, I’ll chalk that one down to a good cause. But the little chain with an Eiffel tower on it, of special meaning for the friend with a Paris fetish? That one just makes me angry.

At some point in time, Amazon.com had stopped shipping to South Africa. You know Amazon. They like to be everywhere on the globe, so for them to shut down an entire market it must have been serious. Boxes with Amazon printed on them disappeared at such an alarming rate that it got too expensive to replace all the packages that were lost. Especially when all the replacements disappeared too. It’s hard to imagine that some years back the thievery was even more rampant because it’s bad enough now, but Amazon did eventually resume deliveries to South African customers.

It just took one Christmas for our families in Europe to realize that shipping anything to South Africa was not a good idea. Let me tell you, our post office box in Dainfern Valley was a lonely affair after that. It just wasn’t worth checking it anymore when the only thing appearing in it with any regularity was the pest control statement and skin care advertisements.

Most people will blame all this on inefficiency. “It’s Africa,” they will say and shrug. I know, because for the longest time that is exactly what I did. Until one day we received an e-mail from our German bank. “Just double checking with you, are you sure you want 10,100 Euro transferred to a Nedbank account as per the attached fax we received?” was what it said. “Hell no,” was our answer, and we sighed a big sigh of relief that some German bank clerk had been paying attention. Not only had the writer of the fax gotten a hold of our account number by intercepting a replacement bank card sent to us, he (or she) had also forged Noisette’s signature at the bottom of the letter. Which he could only have gotten by looking into the postal service files to find the signature on the application for the PO box. The only giveaway was that the letter was written in atrocious German. A slightly more advanced Google Translate, and we might be 10,000 Euro poorer today.

Ha! again

The moral of the story: If you live in South Africa, don’t have ANY foreign bank or financial institution of yours send statements to you in the mail. Don’t even think about it. Have them sent to a friend or relative in your home country, and then have them couriered to you once in a while. Or better yet, don’t have any statements sent at all. Use online banking.

A lot of South Africans complain about corrupt police officers who will ask for bribes in a traffic stop. But frankly, I don’t find that nearly as bothersome. And not only because it gave me great writing material for three years. All you have to do is resist paying a bribe, and if everybody did that, the problem would be solved. But how can you resist someone stealing your mail?

I miss Africa greatly, but nothing gives me more satisfaction these days than going into a United States Post Office branch and entrusting them with whatever goods I feel the need to ship elsewhere. Except to South Africa.

You might also like to read: My Shining Moment: How to deal with corrupt South African traffic cops.