Jacques Pauw, The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison (Tafelberg)

HE became South Africa’s president in 2009 already deeply compromised by the arms deal. Subsequently Jacob Zuma has behaved like an archetypal dictator, amassing wealth for himself and his vast family through deals with shady operators. Jacques Pauw provides details: the Guptas, obviously; but also the Pietermaritzburg tobacco smuggler, Yusuf Kajee, Durban businessmen Roy Moodley and Thoshan Panday; plus assorted criminals and gangsters. Zuma’s income stream is steady, fruitful and highly varied and unlikely to have been revealed to the tax authorities.

How has Zuma stayed in office and away from the courts? The answer lies in a campaign of fabrication and dirty tricks, the hijacking and undermining of state institutions, and the neutralising of individuals brave enough to act against criminal activity. Key allies have been Arthur Fraser, the country’s top spy who allegedly in the past set up a parallel, illegal intelligence system with a server in his own home; and the notorious suspended head of police crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli. Together with a background cast of moral defectives and liars such as Berning Ntlemeza and Nomgcobo Jiba they have engineered the downfall of principled and dedicated civil servants; for example, Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg, Shadrack Sibiya, Johan Booysen and Mxolisi Nxasana. Zuma is kept in power by a state within the state. One of its many sinister features is rogue police units linked to Ntlemeza.

The standard tactic is the grand lie dressed up as ‘intelligence’ from Fraser’s State Security Agency (SSA) or Mdluli, inexplicably still a power in the police. Some of this deception was turned into supposed news stories by now-disgraced journalists at the Sunday Times. There was no rogue investigative unit in the South African Revenue Service (SARS), although there probably is now under Tom Moyane, whom Pauw accuses of bending VAT refund rules for the Guptas. One of the world’s best tax collection services has shed competent staff, now fails to meet its targets, and is allowing major criminals and tax evaders escape with billions owed to the South African people.

Similarly there was no Cato Manor hit squad, just a web of distortion and contrivance designed to protect the nefarious activities of corrupt Durban businessmen and policemen bankrolling the state president. Nor was there an anti-Zuma conspiracy hatched at Estcourt by Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa and others.

In bringing a ‘cease and desist’ demand against the publishers of Pauw’s book, its detractors have simply acted as a very effective marketing agency. Much of its content is in fact old news: Pauw has introduced new revelations and joined up many dots to produce a big picture that points straight at the highest office in the land as the epicentre of corruption and state subversion. He has some wonderful turns of phrase – ‘gangster state’ and ‘legal delinquents’ – but also an irritating tendency to florid and sometimes ugly prose.

If South Africa were a democracy this book would have immediately brought down the government. The ANC would be removed from power until it had reconstructed itself and cleaned out the corrupt and compromised. But the situation is even more dire. Zuma and his keepers have created a state of political instability and consequent economic breakdown that threatens the future of every South African. There is an old-fashioned word for this. It is treason.

Within a week of its publication Pauw’s work had become more than just a book, but a potent symbol of political struggle between constitutionalists and political (and common-or-garden) gangsters. It appears that both the SSA and SARS are urging that charges be brought against the author for infringing various statutes. Human rights activists will be relishing this development. First, Pauw claims he has documentary proof for each of his allegations and open court proceedings will allow him the opportunity to introduce further information not included in his book for various reasons. Second, whether or not the law has been broken there is a clear public interest defence and the nation’s top advocates will be queuing up to make names for themselves. Third, one of the few areas of South African public life that has not been captured is the judiciary and there is justifiable confidence that freedom of information and expression will be respected (Zuma and allies have a consistent record of spectacular lack of success in the courts). Fourth, legal action taken against a high-profile South African journalist may stir some interest internationally in South Africa’s meltdown. The world still basks in the myths of Mandela and the rainbow nation and it sometimes feels as if Peter Hain is the only overseas public figure aware of South African reality.

There is hope. Under apartheid South Africa was a disaster because of the law. In the Zupta era it is a different type of disaster in spite of the law. There is a combative and raucous civil society gearing up for a massive fight with the crooks and opportunists that aspire to run a gangster state. And in spite of eerie echoes of Zimbabwe (with both presidents trying to set up wives as their successors to preserve the family loot) for the moment the centre is holding and there is no reason for anyone to flee the country – yet.

In retrospect it may well be that Pauw’s book is regarded as a tipping point in the crisis of constitutionalism that has gripped South Africa under a Zuma presidency. The situation is remarkably stark: those aspiring to put Pauw in jail should already be there. When fellow veteran journalist Max du Preez said that his colleague’s book was dynamite he was correct. What we have yet to see is exactly how and where the explosion will occur.

This review was first published in a shorter form in The Witness, 8 November 2017.