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Editorial: A country built on cartels

South Africa is steeped in cartels and organised crime. The country’s very inception was corrupt. Our never-ending story’s vast cast of rogues begins with the Dutch East India Company and is now kept alive by the ANC. 

Popular culture has given the mafia a veneer of respectability and coolness, romanticising the Robin Hood elements and ignoring real-world consequences of corruption. 

Each day, this publication and others detail what thievery and corruption has done to the nation.

Take Eldorado Park, where small contractors are being “asked” — violently — to cough up thousands of rands to a so-called business forum and its henchmen to be allowed to build a substation in peace.

This week, a Mail & Guardian investigation unearths what happens when the so-called construction mafia is allowed to run rampant in the country.

This isn’t new for those who remember the words “Feel it, it’s here”. Who could forget how a handful of construction companies colluded to be the only ones to benefit from building stadiums in 2009-10? Even during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, with all eyes on South Africa, dodgy dealings were afoot. Sinister, yes. Unusual, no.

Or 2006, when a consortium of food manufacturers — including Tiger Brands, Pioneer Foods and Premier Foods — rigged the price of bread in a country where millions live below the poverty line.

Five years ago, Tembinkosi Bonakele, the commissioner of the South African Competition Commission, said that the bread cartel was the lowest point in the history of collusion in South Africa. 

It appears when we reached that low point, we just kept digging. 

From large companies and their nefarious relationships with the state to the ordinary person extorting from their neighbour, this brazen behaviour is enabled by the knowledge there will be few or no consequences. 

Many make a quick buck, to the detriment of basic service delivery, the collapse of infrastructure, billions wasted and consequently the demise of our economic growth.

Through the Gupta family’s intricate network of the weak-willed and the gluttonous within the ruling party, coupled with their “generosity”, we find ourselves in a country reeling from one scandal to the next. 

As Shadow World investigators outlined before the Zondo commission on Monday, the country has lost nearly R50-billion to what essentially is a cartel. If you’ve been dealing with rolling blackouts or seen the devastation that is unfolding in state hospitals, you know there is no such thing as a victimless crime. 

Crime trickles down from limp leadership to all of us. This cultural cancer has been metastasising and until there’s a behavioural change in the way we participate in wrongdoing via the odd “cooldrink” we will see another Gupta family rise to gorge itself on our country.

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