Book review: Jacques Pauw’s President’s Keepers. Joining the dots. Brilliantly.
By Alec Hogg, Biznews.com
Although we operate in the same small sector, I’ve never met Jacques Pauw. But the next time I’m in the Swartland, I have every intention of sampling the wares at his restaurant. Judging by the public’s reaction to his amazing new book, that might be easier said than done. Pauw has become the rock star of SA investigative journalists. Justifiably. Because he has delivered the gold standard book on the Zuma era, a period where an estimated R100bn was pillaged by the Guptas alone with at least as much by others; the economy has stagnated; SA’s national debt has soared; GDP per capita has declined annually; unemployment risen from terrifying levels and fixed investment collapsed. My weekend was invested in reading The President’s Keepers. Every minute was well spent. It is sure to captivate you too. – Alec Hogg
After reading Jacques Pauw’s book, you’re sure to truly understand what former finance minister Pravin Gordhan meant when urging us to “join the dots”. Because the brilliance of The President’s Keepers is in the way doing just that.
It guides us through a complex web of deceit that envelops the young democracy. And by the end, leaves you properly informed on the chaos which sometimes feels like it requires full time attention to keep up.
I’m often reminded of that complexity. Occasionally companies here in London that have with interests in South Africa call me for an update on what’s going on back home. Despite a deliberately measured and rational approach, they always find it hard to hide their disbelief.
I have no doubt some readers will adopt a similar attitude when reading Pauw’s book. The sheer scale of the insanity is hard to absorb.
The book’s 18 chapters chronicle how deeply the Beloved Country has been infected by corruption, supporting the view that facts really can be stranger than fiction. Were this a novel, it would be natural to discard it half way as too far-fetched. But South Africans know better. Because they see the results first hand. Every day.
Pauw has dug deep and fearlessly to expose those benefitting from a structure that’s slowly squeezing the hope out of a nation that once dreamed so big.
In so doing he has introduced us to a vast school of bottom feeders. Some already well known, but a number are less familiar – shadowy figures like super-spook Arthur Fraser, NDZ’s new best friend, cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti and SA-based Chinese gangster Shou-Fang Huang.
Also exposed are many conscience-free “criminals with a badge” who draw millions in taxpayer-funded salaries while they use their positions to criminally extract much more in rewards for doing the bidding of national plunderers.
It is likely many will become despondent when reading one example after another of crooked public servants abusing their power to nefarious ends. And how they are drawn together by a golden thread of protecting the network of plunder built around a deeply flawed leader beholden to ever-greedier paymasters. But my take is different because Pauw highlights a reality all too easy to miss.
South Africa is well stocked with brave souls resisting the creeping cancer. From the former top team at SA Revenue Services through to honest cops, this book is replete with heroes standing firm against adversity.
When president Jacob Zuma’s evil empire collapses – as it inevitably must – this book means citizens now a well-documented list of those to be speedily ejected from public office and cushy ambassadorships (including Netherlands, Sweden and Japan). As importantly, the book is also full of suitable candidates to replace the criminals.
The pre-publicity described this book as the biggest political expose’ to hit South Africa. It was no exaggeration. Last week both the SA State Security Agency and SARS demanded the book be removed from bookstores. With their dirty laundry exposed for all to see, it’s easy to understand the knee-jerk. But they are late to the party. The full 20 000 print order was sold out in a couple days and thousands more are being printed – 15 000 alone ordered by the Exclusive Books chain.
Pauw was aware of the possible reaction, sharing in the early chapters that “What I have revealed is an orgy of depravity and venality, and if there is any attempt to stop the publishing of this book, it will be because they do not want you to know about it.”
He didn’t have to wait long for that answer. But Pauw is well prepared. In the section on acknowledgements he offers a special word of gratitude to attorney Willem de Klerk: “Legally vetting this book was a minefield. His 13-page legal report bears testimony to the difficult task he faced.”
I bought my copy from the Amazon Kindle store, where the book is soaring up the global best-seller charts. Others are approaching it differently. As news broke of the legal challenges from the government agencies, a downloadable PDF of the book soon circulated on social media.
Pauw’s reaction to this on Facebook says much about his motives: “I have been inundated with requests from people who want to pay me for the free PDF copies of The President’s Keepers that they downloaded from the internet. I am not going to accept any money.
“This is my take: if you have a PDF copy and can afford to buy a book, please do it. If you cannot afford a book, go for it and read it. You have my blessing. “This is not about money. It is about your support that is going to enable us to legally lock horns with SARS, the State Security Agency and whoever else drags us to court. We are not intimidated. We are printing even more books.”
If you consume your information differently and rarely read books, please make an exception.
Because should there be only one book you read this year, let this be the one. Democracy functions best when its participants are informed. And right now, every South African voter, but especially those in the ruling ANC, need to make themselves aware of what is happening.
Pauw has taken huge personal risks in uncovering the information that has enabled him to “join the dots”. In so doing, his contribution to the young democracy is immeasurable. Let it not be wasted.