South Africa is indeed a wonderful country to live in with hardly a day passing without another drama hitting the headlines.
Social media and public discourse is currently abuzz over veteran journalist Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers: Those Who Keep President Zuma In Power And Out Of Prison.
The debate, as the days go by, seems to be less and less about the book’s content and more and more about the attempts of the State Security Agency (SSA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to stop it from reaching ordinary South Africans.
On Wednesday night all the lights inexplicably went out and the back-up generator failed at a launch of the book in Johannesburg.
And yesterday the SSA confirmed it had laid charges against Pauw for “contravening certain sections of the Intelligence Services Act”.
Talk about damage control – and a case of too little too late.
Huge numbers of people have already laid their hands on the book.
The demand spiked shortly after SSA issued their “cease and desist” letter to both author and his publisher, NB Publishers.
This attempted “ban” of the book, and the subsequent criminal charges laid against Pauw have caught the attention of almost everyone in the country and made people desperate to know what exactly it is that state security and SARS do not want the public to know.
I too want my copy.
Hopefully I’ll still get one. The publishers have carried on printing, while the copies have carried on flying off the shelves of bookstores.
In the meantime, I’d like to highlight a few issues.
First, it’s extremely sad to note that our spooks have not covered themselves in glory in this saga.
There is their general ineptness and clumsiness, which has frankly been astounding.
This is highlighted not only in the book, but by the mere fact that details of their covert operations landed in the public domain in the first place.
Not so jolly watertight are our secrets after all.
And then this book – one apparently so potentially damaging to them and some of their principals – managed to find its way to the printers without anyone having realised.
Our spooks it would seem, were very relaxed and taking things easy until the Sunday Times published an excerpt from the book on their front page.
But if anyone in the public service should not be “sleeping”, surely it’s the guys who wear trench coats and dark glasses.
Maybe I’m guilty of reading too many spy novels and watching too many spy movies. But alas, our spooks seem to be very far from professional.
I would have expected the spooks (whom I have great respect for) to have known all about the book long before it was ready to be published and to have made a quick move to prevent its publication.
How on earth did they not know that a proverbial horse was about to bolt long before it stormed out of its stable and landed smack bang in the national headlines?
Then there is the action against Pauw and his publishers.
First, the attempt to stop them publishing and then the charges against the author are extremely perturbing.
Where are we?
Back in the heyday of apartheid when the National Party would censor or ban books it deemed inimical to its interests and would throw journalists into jail or put them under house arrest?
Why should books be banned in a democracy such as ours?
Remember, this is not the first time an order has been issued to a publisher to desist from publishing or to remove a book from the shelves.
Earlier this year a book by one of the late former President Nelson Mandela’s doctors, Dr V Ramlakhan, was ordered to be removed from the shelves.
Granted there might have been personal family issues there, but when it comes to matters of governance, the public absolutely has a right to know what’s going on and to access information about their government.
The fact that President Jacob Zuma is alleged to be corrupt is old hat. But I think he’s making life extremely difficult for himself and for the entire country by his steadfast refusal over years to answer the 783 allegations of corruption and money-laundering against him in a court of law.
And now, rather than confront the shocking allegations made in Pauw’s book – that he owes R60-million in back taxes, that he received a R1-million per month salary from a dodgy security company for several months after he became president, and that millions more have flowed into the bank accounts of bogus spies, criminal charges are brought against the highly respected author, is charged and the nation is left having flashbacks about the past.
Until Zuma has his day in court and decides to be scrupulously transparent, he cannot claim to be innocent and we as the public are entitled to have our doubts about his probity.
Additional answers that I want stemming from Pauw’s book, is whether indeed our President Zuma is beholden to a range of shady characters who make it their business to shield him from possible prosecution.
We know about the Guptas, but who else is in the inner circle?
Pauw’s book seems to be shedding much-needed light, providing details of the names of people and institutions that are complicit in the wholesale looting of the state.
Zuma is a public representative who is not just answerable to his party. He is the president of this country and needs to account and explain himself to the nation.
What I find particularly bizarre, is that in this age of advanced technology the state, even if the authorities manage to stop further publication of the book, the public can easily obtain it by clandestine means. As I write this column, people may be busy downloading the pirate copy that went viral on social media on the weekend.
I wish that SSA and SARS would realise that the citizens of South Africa are not a bunch of children, but in fact, are thinking adults who will not tolerate yet another round of iron-fisted authorities trying to think and take decisions on their behalf.
There is also the fact that the book certainly cannot do more damage than the immense amount already done by those who loot our coffers, as if there is no tomorrow and those who defend them.
Lolonga Tali is a regular contributor to the Daily Dispatch and works in the heritage sector