Much ado about ‘The President’s Keepers’ as it flies off the shelves

Saturday November 25 2017

Jacob Zuma Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Cyril Ramaphosa

South African President Jacob Zuma (left), presidential hopefuls Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (centre) and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. PHOTO | AFP 

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The President's Keepers, by Jacques Pauw, is flying off the shelves in South Africa.

Pauw, a retired investigative journalist, took a sabbatical from his second career as a chef at his family-owned guest house to return to the business of scrutinising corruption.

The book details allegations of graft involving South Africa’s beleaguered President Jacob Zuma.

According to the publishers, NB Publishers and Tafelberg: “In the first days after publication, the book sold 16,507 print books and 5,127 e-books according to the official Nielsen’s book data. This is a record for any South African book since Nielsen’s started collating sales information in 2004.”

In an echo of the apartheid era when books were banned and authors were harassed by the state, the South African State Security Agency (SSA) recently sent a cease and desist letter to the publishers, and says it is considering legal action against the writer and the publisher.

The original launch of the book on the evening of November 8, at the Hyde Park mall in Johannesburg, was called off after a suspicious power outage; the mall’s back-up generators failed to kick-in.

During a television interview at the launch of his book the following evening, Pauw said he has been receiving anonymous death threats since the book came out, and that though these had “unnerved” him, he was not “overly concerned.”

His publishers put out a press release in support of Pauw. “We view this in an extremely serious light and are taking steps to ensure his safety at all times. We will take legal steps against anyone making such threats,” they said.

He said organised crime was thriving in Jacob Zuma’s South Africa — which the book refers to as a Mafia state — because of “a lack of consequences.” He claimed that President Zuma had “destroyed the nation’s law enforcement agencies.”

Meanwhile, the SA Revenue Service (SARS) is demanding the book be withdrawn. The organisation is contesting a claim in the book that for a number of years, President Zuma received monthly payments of one million rand ($100,000) without declaring it. In a statement published in newspapers, SARS said they are “deeply concerned” because, they allege, confidential taxpayer information has been published in the book.

“We have no intention of withdrawing the book and print copies will be back on the shelves this week.” The e-book has been available all along, and was the number one nonfiction title on Amazon on November 11.

The President’s Keepers is classic narrative journalism and a literary achievement. Reading the book, I’m wondering who in South African politics is not implicated.

From the public service, the book claims that SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane, a comrade in arms of President Zuma, helped him avoid paying taxes. He describes how SARS, once South Africa’s most respected public institution, was captured by Moyane.

The book also claims that President Zuma installed stooges at key law enforcement agencies, and that anyone who has attempted to investigate and reveal corruption has been targeted through dismissals, intimidation, demotions, trumped-up criminal charges and endless court cases.

In the political realm, Pauw claims that ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign is being funded by Adriano Mazzotti, a businessman and director of a cigarette manufacturer, Carnilinx, which is being investigated by SARS for smuggling and tax evasion.

In Chapter Four of the book, Pauw writes: “We all know that greed is a fat demon with a small mouth, and whatever you feed it is never enough. I urge Jacob Zuma to read It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower, written by the distinguished foreign correspondent Michela Wrong. It is a frightening tale of what happens when state corruption goes rogue and becomes endemic.”