Read of the Week

The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma In Power And Out Of Prison

Jacques Pauw

NB Publishers

Review: John Harvey

Forget for a second the damning allegations that have been levelled against the highest powers in the land. Forget the hugely successful marketing campaign that ensured the book remained under wraps to all but those closest to the project. And forget the explosive fall-out that has followed its release.

Instead, ask why The President’s Keepers has come to be a global hit, placing among the Top 10 on and demanding a second print run of thousands within hours.

There’s no denying the allegations of skulduggery, corruption and underworld criminality in the top tier of government have shaken South Africa to its core, but why this particular book, when there have been others to attempt to peel back the layers of the Zuma regime?

It comes down to Pauw himself. Few, if any, journalists working today would have accumulated as many contacts as the veteran reporter over his career.

Significantly, not the type of contacts whose names are guaranteed sound bites (the staple of the modern, digitally-orientated reporter), but those figures in the shadows who surveil the true wheelings and dealings of the political elite.

By cultivating such relationships over a decades-long career, he has been able to siphon secrets way beyond the daily headlines and hashtags. The Nkandla scandal suddenly pales in comparison to the billions of rands now being talked about within the context of graft and gangsterism.

It is also impossible not to draw comparisons with Watergate, and the efforts of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in bringing down US president Richard Nixon in the 1970s, captured in their book

All the President’s Men and later to become an Oscar-winning film.

What Pauw has done is capture the sensational without ever being sensational.

Instead he presents the testimonies of his sources as accurately and honestly as possible, giving conviction to the chapters by detailing the exact locations and times of his meetings, or explaining how he came to be in possession of one or other document.

While he offers opinions on what he encounters, he is never given to emotion and hyperbole.

There is no need, when at the very least highly-credible allegations are stranger than fiction.

But perhaps the most overarching outcome of Pauw’s book is that through good old-fashioned, hard-nosed reporting, he has painted Zuma and those around him into a corner.

All the court cases launched by opposition parties, the protests clogging city centres, the endless Twitter campaigns; arguably none have had the impact of The President’s Keepers in exposing the depths of Zuma’s rabbit hole.

Court cases loom, but for the president and those around him, it is a Catch 22: Sue for libel, and their lawyers have to prove in law the allegations are untrue; flatly deny what has been written without legal action, and prosecution is imminent.

Whatever happens from here is anyone’s guess, given South Africa’s uncertain turbulent landscape, but regardless of what’s next, this is a book that will be referred to for generations to come.