Jacques Pauw was a real journalist thirty years ago. But thirty years ago it was possible to be a real journalist because there were independent newspapers like the Weekly Mail and the Vrye Weekblad. Nowadays there are no independent newspapers and so it is impossible to be a real journalist, so now Jacques Pauw is a propagandist.
But not a very good one, although he obviously has some impressive backers to judge by all the fuss made around his book The President’s Keepers. It’s a rag-bag of a book, containing some genuinely valuable information scattered like corn mixed with polystyrene packing-kernels amid rehashed material, and strident, screaming commentary which often seems presented in place of substantiation.
The gist of the interesting stuff relates to Pauw’s deep-seated anger at the destruction vested on the spy and secret police service, which Zuma bundled together as the State Security Agency and placed in the care of the corrupt, lying corporate crook Moe Shaik who proceeded to stuff up as much as he could before he was replaced by someone even greedier named Fraser who invented projects through which to siphon off the cash. (This is the congenital disease of secret services; Len Deighton’s early-sixties Billion-Dollar Brain is all about how to rook money out of secret services, and it’s no accident that Deighton’s hero is a money-laundering specialist.)
But, in the end, does all that matter? The elements which became the State Security Agency were preposterously inept even before Motlanthe/Zuma took over; look at how badly Masetlha and company handled their attempt to smear Mbeki. Zuma was a lousy prospect for running the secret services. Zuma’s administration has been essentially incapable of properly controlling expenditure or overseeing effective performance management (not only because it is incompetent, but also because nobody in Zuma’s administration cares about such things).
What is, perhaps, more curious is why Zuma’s administration should have allowed themselves to be so poorly served by what should have been Zuma’s pride and joy, his secret police and his police detective services, between which (if he abused them shrewdly) he should have been able to keep himself out of trouble and in power without any other assistance at all. Allowing them to collapse into corrupt miasmas of rubble and excrement makes no sense if you believe, as Pauw (rightly) believes, that Zuma’s main agenda is to stay out of trouble by staying in power. You’d also expect Zuma to have a crackerjack legal team primed to defend the President at all costs, and to justify any action the President takes under all circumstances — instead of which, Kemp and Hulley and the rest of them appear like a bunch of autistic dingbats presiding over a team of zoo chimps. Zuma’s legal teams have just enough competence to delay the inevitable, but not enough to accomplish anything. It’s almost as if they aren’t really working for Zuma, but for someone else.
These are supposed to be the President’s keepers? More like the President’s losers; or, to be more accurate, the bottom-feeders who endeavour to suck up the crumbs which fall away from the mess which the President makes.
The real problem with Pauw’s book, though, isn’t simply exaggeration or a failure to analyse the substantive issues. Rather, the problem is that he simply believes, or claims to believe, that South African politics is purely a question of good versus evil; good being everyone who’s against Zuma, or whom Zuma is again, and evil being everyone who supports Zuma, or whom Zuma supports. Now, self-evidently most of the people who are tied in with Zuma are crooks, and a fair number of them are indeed filthy, odious crooks. But the trouble is, there are also people who aren’t tied in with Zuma who are nevertheless filthy odious crooks, and many of them are highly politically active — and often people who helped put the Zuma system in place today, and are now slaving away for Ramaphosa.
The consequence is evident in the incoherence of the book. There is, really, no order to it, because Pauw doesn’t have the kind of structuring value-system which he could employ when he was challenging the apartheid death-squads. Therefore he rambles all over the place, throwing in information wherever he finds it, neither chronologically nor organisationally coherent.
It is, of course, scary that cigarette-smugglers seem to get away with their crimes, presumably through bribing the people whom Pauw says are corrupt. Possibly the smugglers are indeed as influential as Pauw suggests — but it can’t simply be because they are cigarette-smugglers, for there are much richer people than them who might also want to see things happen. Indeed, one doesn’t know how many of the people who get away with their crimes are doing so because they are influential, and how many of them are getting away with their crimes because much more influential and wealthy criminals want every big crook to get away with their crimes. (And, incidentally, is the big focus on cigarette-smugglers motivated by the desire of big tobacco companies to protect their own profits?)
This sounds like “whatabouttery”, the practice of defending indicted criminals by pointing at other criminals who are not indicted. Of course, it is important that people like Pauw condemn people who are criminals. But what if they are doing this in order to protect other people who are bigger criminals? And what if they don’t even understand the issues around what they are doing?
Amusing evidence of this surfaces early in the book. Pauw had his laptop stolen and immediately assumed that this was the secret police after him, because that is what is said by everybody in an official or politically-motivated position who gets robbed. Eventually it turns out to be a street-kid, although Pauw did not check on the political opinions of the street-kind. Still, this shows the paranoid fantasies of which Pauw is capable; how much of the rest of the book is paranoid fantasy?
Secondly, when he goes to Moscow on a wild goose chase, he is startled to discover that in Moscow the signs are all in Russian! And in the Cyrillic alphabet! How dare these people not use Afrikaans and write everything in Roman characters? Furthermore, he learns to his horror that it snows in Moscow, and that sometimes the snow melts and his feet get wet — how can this be permitted when Pauw is a very important tourist?
So a very-far-from-worldly-wise fantasist is the author of this book. Either Pauw has changed since the old days, or maybe he was always really like this.
He goes through the usual suspects like Berning Ntlemeza, Tom Moyane and the rest, and the usual victims such as SARS and the Hawks, quoting from all the books and newspaper articles which have been written by people who were paid to write books and newspaper articles about these things — it’s like a scrapbook. Occasionally, however, odd things surface which suggest something different. For instance, although he’s not in the book’s index, in mentioning Zuma’s rape trial he mentions how Judge Van Der Merwe condemned Zuma for, essentially, raping the woman “Khwezi”. OK, then why did the Judge find Zuma innocent, and why doesn’t Pauw find the Judge culpable, instead proclaiming that all judges are superior life forms which will save us from all corruption?
Or he happens to mention that the head of HR at Lonmin was apparently an intelligence agent tasked with setting up a rival union to AMCU and NUM at Rustenburg, a project eventually shut down (because it failed, or because AMCU itself fulfilled the same function?). He notes that here the intelligence services and big business were clearly working together from the same script, and also notes that one of the big cheeses involved in the whole affair was Cyril Ramaphosa (curious how that name keeps coming up, eh?) but then hastily backs away, because this would rather undermine his argument that there is no such thing as white monopoly capital capturing the state.
In a related matter, towards the end when (evidently in a rush) he threw everything together, he mentions the glory of the former Public Protector in using her rightly limitless powers to expose the President’s malfeasances and call for rectification. Then he contrasts this with the disgrace of the current Public Protector in using her improper and excessive powers to expose the Reserve Bank’s malfeasances and call for rectification. According to Pauw it’s OK to take on politicians, unless they are politicians who serve the interests of rich people. Perhaps Pauw could be considered the Bankster’s Keeper.
All this stuff seems fairly problematic — and there is also the fact that he hardly looks into the records of the people whose interests he wishes to promote. Thus he skates around the remarkably murky past of his SARS hero Van Loggerenberg (and doesn’t pay enough attention to the man’s nefarious relationship with an obvious spook, Walker) and he simply ignores the odious past of his police hero Booysen (ex-Soweto riot squad, ex- Security Police). These are straws in the wind, since both of these people were undeniably shafted on odious grounds, but they suggest that Pauw is happy to look the other way when people whom he defines as good (or are they defined for him by others) get into bad deals.
An example of how Pauw exaggerates importance is when he prints a mysteriously-acquired tape of Glenn Agliotti, a minor drug smuggler involved in the Kebble case, boasting to some other junior gangsters about his awesome power and influence. Pauw admits that Agliotti is a fluent liar and fantasist, and yet insists that on this particular instance whatever he says should be taken seriously, because it serves Pauw’s pretense that minor gangsters are in charge of the Zuma administration.
He also notes how sinister it is that Agliotti got off on the Kebble murder charge. What he doesn’t say is that Agliotti got off because of a plea-bargain which he made with the Scorpions who were trying to use him to destroy Police Commissioner Selebi. And who was the sleazeball who made that sordid deal which went wrong (even though yet another dodgy judge eventually sent Selebi down on fabricated charges)? Who but another of Pauw’s heroes, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, now chief legal officer for a white supremacist movement. (And one doesn’t have to be PAC to notice that, to an even greater extent than demography would predict, Pauw’s heroes are white and his villains black.)
Talking about cops, it’s interesting that while Pauw exults in Selebi’s fall and in the orchestrated destruction of Commissioner Riyah Phiyega’s career (even though Pauw isn’t able to find much that she actually did wrong) he is much quieter about Bheki Cele, even though, unlike the others, he actually had to resign after being caught orchestrating a corrupt business deal worth several hundred million rand, and even though most of the problems with the police which Pauw identifies started on Cele’s watch. But Cele is now a big supporter of Ramaphosa; can this be why Pauw flushes away all the excrement he left behind him?
The core of Pauw’s hero-list is, of course, all those wonderful journalists like himself who expose these things. But he does admit there are a few problems. He mentions a big problem back to front, starting with the disinformation around the “SARS rogue unit” which never was, disinformation peddled by the Sunday Times through obviously corrupt journalists. Then he mentions the disinformation peddled by the same paper and the same journalists a bit earlier, around getting rid of the Hawks boss in Gauteng, General Dramat, and the same paper and the same journalists going after the IPID boss Robert McBride, and, eventually, the same thing having happened way back when going after the Hawks boss in KwaZulu-Natal, General Booysen.
He admits that there is a problem with journalists and a newspaper being used by organised criminals to destroy the state’s investigative services. However, he then says that this is all right now, because the Sunday Times has a new editor, and one of the journalists involved, Hofstatter, has moved on (though he still writes for the paper, oddly enough). But the other lead journalist involved, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, also wrote the newspaper’s commentary plugging Pauw’s book! In other words, Pauw is happy to collaborate with notorious fabricators and propaganda peddlers when it suits him to do so.
Or is he just a fabricator and propaganda peddler himself? Or did he even write the book, or just sell his name to the writers of the book in exchange for money to salvage his ailing Riebeeck-Kasteel restaurant? Apparently there are free copies of the book being circulated (interestingly, the book is produced by the apartheid propaganda organisation Naspers, now called Media24 and the largest company on the JSE by virtue of its Chinese investments — but there is no such thing as white minority capital, is there?). Therefore you can decide on the value of the book without giving any money to Pauw or his backers.
But the book alone will not give you the full story of what the book is really about, or where it comes from.