South Africa is indeed a wonderful country to live in as hardly a day passes without some interesting news. Social media and public discourse is currently abuzz about veteran journalist Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers: Those Who Keep President Zuma in Power and Out of Prison.
The debate, as days inexorably go by, is less about the contents of the book but more about the attempts by the State Security Agency (SSA) and South African Revenue Service (SARS) to stop the book from reaching the hands of ordinary South Africans.
Ironically, a number of people have laid their hands on the book just after the SSA issued a ‘cease and desist’ letter to both author and publisher (NB Publishers) last Friday. SARS and the SSA’s attempted ‘ban’ of the book, as would be expected, has made just about everyone want to know what it is they do not want the public to know. The two agencies have inadvertently piqued the interest of the public and surely that is not bad news for Jacques Pauw, as he will be smiling all the way to the bank. I want my copy, too.
In this cat-and-mouse game between Pauw and SSA/SARS, Pauw and his publishers seems to have been too clever for them and are galloping right ahead. They are in the process of getting more books printed as the original copies have been sold out.
It should be extremely sad to note that our spooks have not covered themselves in glory in this entire saga because of their clumsiness in handling the issue. How is it possible that a book which would be potentially damaging to them and some of their principals found its way to the printers?
I would have expected the spooks (whom I have great respect for) to have known about the book long before it was about to be published and made a quick move to prevent its publication. It would seem that they were relaxed and taking things easy until the Sunday Times last week published an excerpt from the book. One would think that if there are guys who are not ‘sleeping’, it is those fellows in trench-coats, dark glasses and fedora hats. Alas, it does not look to be so with our spooks (or is it our Big Brother?). Maybe I am guilty of watching and reading too many spy novels and movies. They should have known by then that the proverbial horse had bolted out of the stable.
In an ideal world one would expect the focus of Big Brother to be with us all the time and for nothing and nobody (including a retired journalist) to escape his perennial gaze.
The instruction issued to Pauw and his publishers smacks of the heydays of Apartheid when the National Party would censor books it deemed inimical to its interests. It begs these questions: Are we progressing or regressing as a democracy? Why should books be banned in a democracy like ours? Remember, this is a second time an order has been issued to publishers to desist from publishing or remove a book from the shelves. It happened earlier this year when a book by one of the late former President Nelson Mandela’s doctors (Dr Vejay Ramlakan) was ordered to be removed from the shelves. What about freedom of information and the right of the public to know? Could there be anything in the book that we don’t already know, or that we are not supposed to know?
The fact that President Zuma is alleged to be corrupt is old hat. I believe he is making life a tad difficult for himself by steadfastly refusing to answer those allegations in a court of law. Until he does so he cannot claim to be innocent and neither can we as the public judge him guilty. Of course, we are entitled to have our doubts about his probity. Let the courts decide about his guilt or innocence. His constant filibustering is a cause for concern as it involves a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Additional information that the book may have about how the President Zuma is beholden to shady characters who make it their business to shield him from possible prosecution is not something to be hidden from the public. It is information that is in the public interest as we have a constitutionally-entrenched right to know. We are also asking ourselves questions about how he seems to be the renowned Harry Houdini (the escape artist) when it comes to legal matters. The book seems to be shedding much-needed light on that as it provides the names of the people and institutions who help him avoid prosecution. President Zuma is a public representative who is answerable not only to his party but also to the very public which voted his party into power. That is about 11 million South Africans, not only the 1.5 million card-carrying members of his party.
The spooks must be kicking themselves in disgust for letting the book slip through their prying eyes and find its way to an eager public.
I understand that spooks are content to operate behind the scenes far from the public but it is their clumsiness, not the book nor its author, which has ‘outed’ them. They should just let the book be and deal with the mole among themselves who spilled the beans. In this age of advanced technology, even if they were to win a court order to stop further publication of the book, the public would still obtain it by clandestine means. As I am writing this column, some people may be busy downloading the book online as hard copies of it are finished as they sold like hot cakes.
I wish that the SSA/SARS realize that the public is not comprised of kids but thinking adults who do not need to have people thinking and taking decisions for them. The book will do no further damage to our brains than the damage done to our body politic and country by those who are looting the state and those who defend them.