Rioters and looters grabbed as much as R20 million in cash as they destroyed hundreds of ATMs during the wave of unrest that swept through KwaZulu Natal and parts of Gauteng in July.
This was the rough estimate given by the Banking Association of South Africa head, Bongiwe Kunene during a media briefing on Thursday (29 July), though she stressed that the final tally of what was stolen is difficult to pinpoint.
Earlier this week, BASA reported that 1,223 automatic teller machines (ATMs) and 269 bank branches were destroyed in the unrest. While many of these units are being repaired, Kunene said that the number that needs to be replaced now sits at 1,400, and it will take two months for them all to be brought back online.
With millions of rands stolen from the machines, many of these notes are now in circulation. The South African Reserve Bank has warned South Africans that transacting with stolen notes could make them complicit in criminal activity.
The central bank said that ATMs are equipped with technology to stain banknotes in case of attack. This process of protecting the banknotes defaces them so that they carry no monetary value for people who invade ATMs, the SARB said.
“The SARB wishes to advise the public to be aware and cautious of accepting banknotes that have been stained with traces of blue or green ink,” it said. “Note that these banknotes are considered the proceeds of crime and have no value and cannot be exchanged.
“Members of the public are therefore strongly encouraged not to accept such banknotes, and to report such incidents to the nearest police station.”
How the dye-stain works
ATMs hold cash in special containers that protect the notes with dye-stain technology that is activated when someone tries to break open the container.
Once activated, the cash is stained with a green dye, thus defacing the notes, rendering them unusable as currency.
People who are in possession of these notes make themselves suspects of a criminal investigation that will seek to determine if they were involved in the stealing and unauthorised access of these ATM containers, said the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric).
Sabric said it noticed an increase in the attempted circulation of dye-stained notes in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, following the destruction of multiple ATMs.
South Africans are cautioned against accepting these dye-stained notes as legal tender as the onward use and value of these notes will not be honoured, said Sabric chief executive Nischal Mewalall.
“You may also find yourself out of pocket after releasing goods or performing services because you will not be able to utilise the currency you were paid with.
“In addition, you also run the risk of being investigated, arrested, and prosecuted for the destruction of these ATMs.”