Capital Flight from South Africa: A Case Study

Part of PERI's African Capital Flight Working Paper Series
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Abstract

This paper examines the mechanisms, actors, enablers, and the institutional environment that facilitate capital flight from South Africa and the resulting accumulation of private wealth in offshore financial centers. We estimate that from 1970 to 2017, South Africa lost over $300 billion through capital flight, including through overinvoicing of imports and underinvoicing of exports. Net trade misinvoicing amounted to $146 billion over the 1998-2017 period alone. Export underinvoicing appears to be especially rampant in the case of mineral resources such as gold, silver, platinum and diamonds. While capital flight is not a new phenomenon in South Africa, it has accelerated substantially over the past decades, a period marked by aggressive liberalization of the national economy and rapid integration into the global economy. Capital flight is a concern in a country such as South Africa that faces deep financing gaps, high multidimensional poverty, inequality and unemployment. An important challenge faced by South Africa in its quest to tackle capital flight and the associated problems such as tax evasion, base profit shifting, and money laundering is the threat of erosion of the public confidence in state institutions in light of the emerging phenomenon of state capture orchestrated by an intricate network of private ‘enablers’ with deep connections within the state and in the global economy. The adverse effects of capital flight on economic development, state institutions and governance call for urgent attention to prevent even more devastating consequences for the country’s political and social instability.

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