Defend Truth


Money heists and the tragicomedy of our times


Busani Ngcaweni is Director-General of the National School of Government, South Africa.

Netflix’s ‘Money Heist’ and the heist of Covid-19 funds are similar in proportion – huge. In impact, they are not the same. This is the tragicomedy of our times.

It was all set. The biggest money heist in the world: bloodless, well thought out and with diligence in execution. Led by a smart “professor”, they took control of the money factory so they could run the money machine and print as much as they wanted – a €200-million heist from the mint.

Fatigued by books and all the Covid-19 science, it was time to bow to pressure and sign up for internet television. And the first series I watched was Money Heist. 

The irony, or how it parallels between what ought to have been a perfect, bloodless heist – executed with diligence and precision – and what is happening in South Africa today is glaring. 

Well, until human folly overcame some of the protagonists and the weaklings in the operation. 

It all seemed perfect, a thriller, a carnivalesque attempt at creativity with epic scriptwriting and likeable thugs, who appeal to the hearts of the viewers. 

Like the events of the dying days of July 2020 in our country, the theatre is an open square, entrance is free and the public is watching.

It all looked complex, yet so basic. Know what’s going on inside, pick a multi-disciplinary team, get the tools, pounce when it’s least expected. 

During the cliffhanger of the series, the protagonist asks his apparatchiks: “What holds us together?” 

They talk of soccer, sex, threesomes and orgies. Wrong, they all conclude. Money, they agree, is what binds together the hostages (the public), and the heist operatives. As it would subsequently play out in successive seasons, the mint workers join in with the heist kings and go on to rob other banks. 

The lead detective is entangled in a web of love with the professor, the king of the heist, the obsessive co-leader of the rescue mission and the ex-husband, who leads the forensic department. 

What complexity… clearly, this is the stuff of black swans.

It’s a good series. At least the thieves work for the money, quipped one of the reviewers. 

And then there is an Arturo, the mint manager who impregnated his secretary – what a jerk this Arturo is and he never keeps quiet. 

As we see in our own political life, the professor had a predicament: to be safe, he had to kill the mother of the lead detective he had fallen in love with. As his poison sets into her tea, she politely tells him “you seem like a good man. I can see it in your eyes…”.

Isn’t that what the voters think of all of us, that we seem like good men? And they vote again and again, heist after heist for the same men.

This is a tragicomedy of our times, of money, consumption and “leadership”.

The professor’s life revolved around one central idea: resistance. He wouldn’t let go, even as he faced danger. He, like the tenderpreneur, is driven by the idea of reward, which is greater than the risk. 

As I watched the forensic teams clad in personal protective equipment (PPE), I wondered if PPE would be the arms deal of our times, as some have asked. 

The heist in the Money Heist and the PPE heist during Covid-19 are similar in proportions – they are both huge. In impact, they are not the same. The impact of the Covid-19 heist is devastating in all manners conceivable – erosion of public trust, rise in infection rates as PPE fails to arrive on time, lives lost, political careers in ruins. 

At least in Money Heist, the protagonists care about public sympathy and set off to do all they can to retain it – from feeding hostages to caring for their safety. Here, in South Africa, the hostages of the Covid-19 heist enjoy no sympathy. They are on their own. 

What a tragedy! DM


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