“Thieving Bastards, Etc.”

Andrew Donaldson says it's time the 'current affairs' section of our bookshops get renamed


STUMPED for gifts for those distant relatives on the outer branches of the family tree? Fear not, the South African Police Services have a suggestion. 

With just a fortnight in which to complete our Christmas shopping, it is heartening that the authorities should once more dutifully remind the reading public — and you know who you are! — of Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and Out of Prison and Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s The Republic of Gupta: A Story of State Capture.

It is entirely possible that many South Africans have not yet read either of these books. Or any number of others detailing the Klepto-Zuptacracy. 

Their titles now all blur into one —How A Simple Man Can Steal a City Seal the Fate of the Nation and Be a Rogue Enemy of the People — and it’s a wonder the bookstores don’t relabel their Current Affairs shelves “Thieving Bastards, Etc.”

In fact, there are those who pointedly refuse to read such books. Many say they will depress and drive them deeper into that slough of despond. 

Yet others, like the happy hour philosophers here at the Mahogany Ridge, dismiss them, saying these books can teach them nothing new about the crooks. This is a regrettable attitude, the retailers among us would argue.

But they do have a point, and it could be said that these books — no doubt all worthy of the hand grenade-type cover shouts like “explosive” and “dynamite” — do not “lift the lid” on state affairs and expose the rot within for the simple reason that there is no lid to lift at all. The rot lies in the open for all to see.

As an editorial in the Economist put it this week, “South Africa is no longer in the forefront of the world’s consciousness, as it was in the 1990s … it is the site of the most visible battle in the world between good and bad government.”

There is certainly something unique about our brand of graft, the magazine adds. 

“What is unusual about South Africa is not that corruption thrives, but that it does so in plain sight. Thanks to a history of civic activism, a free press and a robust judiciary, South Africans are aware of the wholesale theft. Investigative journalists have catalogued corruption at all levels of government. Week after week, activists and opposition parties challenge the government in court…”

With little or no results, the pessimists would add. But, just as the dirt piles up, so too is the heat turned up on Shaun Abrahams, the beleaguered National Director of Public Prosecutions. Any more heat, you’d think, and Shaun the Sheep would be ready for the table. Just add garlic and rosemary.

Which brings us back to the authorities’ latest attempt to publicise Pauw and Myburgh’s books.

One Colonel R Govender, who is cluster detective co-ordinator of SAPS in Ethekwini Outer North, has written to the writers’ lawyer to complain of a somewhat disobliging attitude when it came to assisting the authorities in their harassment of them. 

In his letter, headed “Criminal Investigation”, Govender said, “Despite your undertakings to do so [cooperate in the investigation] your clients have failed to cooperate and I will have to resort to the necessary legal avenues unless they present themselves to me at my offices at Durban North Police Station or a police station close to the airport in Johannesburg.”

Myburgh’s editor at News24, Adriaan Basson, is puzzled. As far as he’s concerned, Myburgh’s quite prepared to meet with Govender.

Odder still is that Govender may have gone a bit rogue here. 

“It is bizarre,” Basson said, “that the national head office of the police is not aware of this case and that Govender is approaching a matter of national importance in such a cloak-and-dagger manner. We will do everyone in our power to get to the bottom of this.”

Speaking of which, if there is a cloak-and-dagger element here, then it is one that, again, doesn’t have much of a cloak to it. And the dagger appears to be a weeny bit blunt, as well.

In the old days (and not that we miss them), when the authorities wanted to intimidate an enemy of the state — a student leader, say, or a trade unionist — they’d call on them in the early hours of the morning, bundle them in the back of a van, and drive them halfway across the country before detaining them for three months.

Now it seems “persons of interest” must bundle themselves into their own cars, get to the cop shop on their own dime and there volunteer themselves for a grilling.

This is obviously a manpower thing as the authorities have their hands full tackling corruption.

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.