After reading Jacques Pauw's words in the Sunday Times, I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into the book. As soon as I was able to download the e-book, I did just that. The veteran investigative journalist has been heralded as a hero for revealing that evidence exists to confirm something many South Africans have suspected: that Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, is –– or at least has been –– a kept man.
The book, "The President's Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison", is drive-one-to-drink-depressing in its detail, and will forever be the articulation of what happens when power lands in the hands of people who are unmoored from reality and any sense of what is ethical or moral.
The book colourfully describes a president who was on the take to the tune of R1-million a month while occupying the office, yet childishly refused to honour his duty to country and pay a tax bill of R63-million.
The riveting read exposes a State Security Agency (SSA) that committed crimes (forging Minister Kasril's signature), that wasted taxpayers' money on cars and computer servers, while adopting the "charity begins at home" motto, which has become the signature tune of the Zuma presidency.
South Africa's spooks are described in the book as inept, self-serving and more like an alcoholic on a binge-drinking spree than a body interested in national intelligence, which resulted in them spending more than R1-billion during a three-year period.
Veteran journalist Jacques Pauw, known to have been a thorn in the flesh of the National Party government during the last desperate throes of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s, portrays a South African Revenue Services (SARS) pre-2014 that all South Africans could be proud of, as they efficiently collected taxes from all taxpayers to enable the country to function effectively.
SARS, which was the crown jewel of South African state agencies, treated everyone, including President Zuma, as an ordinary taxpayer. However, South Africa's crown jewel lost its lustre and ability to doggedly go after chronic tax evaders when Tom Moyane, previously the national commissioner at the Department of Correctional Services, took over the reins at Sars at the end of 2014.
This is an echo of the past, and it seems that the Zuma security apparatus took a page from their apartheid-era masters' playbook.
"The President's Keepers" is a gripping read, as it chronicles how South Africa is rapidly descending into a gangster state, and it offers little encouragement that the new guard waiting in the wings will be any less captured by crooks hoping to have their tax debt eviscerated.
Despite the shocking revelations in the book, it is the events that occurred since it was published that should have South Africans worried.
A few days after its release, the SSA insisted that Pauw and his publisher cease and desist printing and distributing the book, alleging it was "compromising state security". They demanded that the book be recalled and parts withdrawn and a few days later laid charges against the journalist. This is an echo of the past –– it seems that the Zuma security apparatus took a page from their apartheid-era masters' playbook.
As if it is not terrifying enough that transparency and press freedom -- which form the cornerstones of our democracy -- are seemingly being disregarded by the SSA, it was the comment by our current public protector on social media, in which she discouraged another person from buying "The President's Keepers", that I found truly disconcerting.
Public Protector (PP) Busisiwe Mkhwebane has seemingly been MIA following her shoddy probe into an apartheid-era bailout of Absa, which she used to attack the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). Her inappropriate instruction to lawmakers to amend the constitution in order to force the SARB to focus on the "socioeconomic well-being of the citizens" rather than inflation was subsequently smacked down by the High Court.
After months of what looks like a hiatus in investigating cases of improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration and abuse of power in state affairs (as is proudly stated in the public protector's vision and mission) PP Mkhwebane decided to resurface by disapproving of the purchase of a book critical of President Zuma.
Despite her spokesperson's vehement denials that the PP said that people should not buy the book, the mere fact that she chose to comment on a book filled with allegations of serious impropriety in state affairs -- which she might even be requested to investigate in the future -- is from my viewpoint an indication of where the PP's personal allegiance lies.
By showing her hand in such a clumsy manner, the seemingly innocuous social media comment gives some credence to the SARB's allegations in court papers that PP Mkhwebane conspired with the presidency and the SSA to attack and undermine the authority of the central bank.
The Pauw book has forever changed how we view President Zuma, presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), for it identifies something that is often overlooked. That politics is pricey. That those wishing to make a difference in our politics need more than good intentions: they need money.
Politicians and parties need money to contest elections, as we saw in 2014, when the EFF challenged in court the exorbitant registration fees required for them to contest the general elections.
South Africa's political legacy has resulted in a reality where those who want to engage in our country's politics are, for the most part, not members of the "old money" boys' club, and thus they require financial backing. When the need for money is satisfied by dubious characters who made their money in illegal activities and who do not see paying taxes as an act of patriotism, then captured politicians are likely to remain a reality beyond the Zuma presidency.
It is time for honourable, civic-minded South Africans who are blessed with "more money than God" to do more than just dutifully pay their taxes. It is asking a lot, but South Africa needs the truly wealthy to start flexing their muscles in politics not for personal gain, but for duty to country, so that South Africa, which has enabled them to attain such wealth, can flourish and not go the route of many African countries.
We need unselfish and patriotic people with the necessary financial ability to get involved in political parties that have the support of the majority of South African voters.
All South Africans are in the same boat. We face challenges that we cannot influence, such as climate change and bird flu. However, challenges such as politicians being indebted to those who do not act in the interest of South Africa and all its people can be addressed.
We need unselfish and patriotic people with the necessary financial ability to get involved in political parties that have the support of the majority of South African voters; for as long as houses, free university education and radical economic transformation are promised, no other party is likely to win a majority of the vote, because the majority of South African voters remain rural and poor.
Only supporting political parties with which one has something in common, but who are unlikely to win the vote of the marginalised, mainly rural majority, or even remaining uninvolved in politics, creates a vacuum that is filled by people with less than noble intentions.
Politicians thus end up being beholden to rent seekers, or to those who refuse to honour their tax obligations. This leads to corruption, and corruption costs the country billions of rands –– money that is then lacking for housing, health, education and fighting crime.