Review: Archie Henderson
Steinheist, by Rob Rose (Tafelberg)
Rob Rose can read a googly as well as he can a balance sheet, especially the leg-spinner’s wrong ’un out of the back of the bowler’s hand, or the crooked accountant’s one trying to disguise a fraud.
It’s his skill in deciphering company figures rather than spinning balls on the cricket pitch (where he captains and opens the batting for his team) that Rose brings to bear in this remarkably entertaining book. If you thought balance sheets and accounting practices were boring, Steinheist will change your opinion.
Rose brings another, vital, element to his story of Markus Jooste and the biggest case of white-collar chicanery in South African history: his dogged reporting skills. Hell, he even interviewed the Hermanus whale crier to get a sense of Skelm Markus.
If the Steinhof saga left you intrigued but puzzled, this book lays out the shocking story of fraud with such clarity that even this reviewer was able to follow the plot (well, much of it anyway).
Rose has persuaded a huge range of characters to talk to him about Steinhof (an achievement on its own) and lets them tell the story. From financial analysts to bond traders, to friends and rivals of Skelm Markus, to the man’s neighbours in Hermanus and, yes, even the whale crier, he comes close to explaining how Jooste almost got away with it. The trial will be the final chapter, if it ever happens.
And why shouldn’t it happen? Well, if you look at how easily Jooste was able to cow the parliamentary justice committee (DA MP David Maynier aside) and how incompetent our justice system is in getting even more obvious crooks (like the previous mob at Eskom, Transnet and similar places) behind bars, you begin to doubt that Jooste will ever be fitted for an orange jumpsuit. Even Rose, ever the optimist, is doubtful.
“There’s even the real prospect that he might never have to answer criminal charges,” writes Rose in the final paragraph of the book. “But it doesn’t really matter. Frozen out of his community, he’s a prisoner already.”
Skelm Markus hides behind high walls in his Hermanus mansion – and he’s unlikely ever to come out again, at least not in the brazen, show-off manner he once did when he conned supposedly clever businessmen like Christo Wiese. Not that Wiese wasn’t warned. One of the best parts of the book was how one analyst, over a one-and-a-half hour presentation with slides and all, warned the billionaire about Jooste and Steinhof, only to see Wiese, two years later, investing in Skelm Markus’s schemes – and almost losing his shirt. At least poor Christo was left with R59 billion. We weep for his loss, and wonder how he gets by these days.