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13/11/2017 12:35 SAST | Updated 13/11/2017 13:17 SAST

Here's Why Jacques Pauw Should Fear For His Life

The more the governing elite become corrupt, the more press freedom comes under threat.

Investigative journalist Jacques Pauw.
Gianluigi Guercia/ AFP/ Getty Images
Investigative journalist Jacques Pauw.

If Jacques Pauw's book "The President's Keepers" were a movie, I would say: "I have seen that movie before." I would take out the popcorn and watch that movie. Incidentally, crime, detective, and spy are my favourite genres.

The movie is called "Nothing Left to Steal", written by and starring Sunday Times investigative journalist Mzilikazi Wa Afrika. The movie started on 1 August 2010, the day the Sunday Times ran a story about then national police commissioner Bheki Cele, alleging that he had signed a R500-million contract to lease the police headquarters in Tshwane without following procurement prescripts.

Two days later, Cele held a press conference where he described the story as "incorrect... and misleading". In particular, he vented his anger on Wa Afrika, describing him as a "very shady journalist".

Two days later, a contingent of armed police officers -- led by General Shadrack Sibiya and Colonel Christopher Mabasa -- arrested Wa Afrika at his workplace in Rosebank, Johannesburg, took him to his house and ransacked it without a search warrant, looking for a briefcase containing classified information.

This was part of a multipronged plot, hatched a day before his arrest at a meeting in Witbank, Mpumalanga, to plant drugs and illegal firearms in his house and arrest him. The plot, however, backfired when one of the police officers threatened to expose them for framing "an innocent man".

Mabasa and his team took Wa Afrika to Mpumalanga in an unmarked car. For his own safety, Mabasa decided to lock him up for the night. Before handing him over to their colleagues at the Waterval Boven police station, Mabasa told Wa Afrika about a plot to poison him. "They want you dead, Mzilikazi," he said, warning the multiple award-winning journalist not to eat or drink anything given to him. This plot also backfired.

Journalists find it increasingly difficult to do their job in the country.

On his arrival at the Witbank police station in the early hours of the morning, Wa Afrika caught a glimpse of Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, who had been in the news for grand corruption. With the two plots having backfired, then Hawks head General Leroy Mapiyane tried to cajole Wa Afrika into signing a written statement for him, thereby admitting that "he had accepted money" to file bad stories about Mabuza. The third plot also backfired.

Ironically, Wa Afrika's arrest took place on the same day members of the South Africa National Editors' Forum (SANEF) had paid the newspaper a visit to discuss the press freedom in the country amid a national debate on the Secrecy Bill and the Media Tribunal Appeals (MAT). These measures pose a serious threat to the press freedom.

Seven years later, Wa Afrika once more faced death threats for exposing grand corruption at Eskom. Hence, Tiso Blackstar Group, the company that owns the Sunday Times, has provided him and his family with 24-hour security.

"What is of huge concern to us is the fact this is not an isolated case," said Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko, raising his concern about how journalists find it increasingly difficult to do their job in the country. The main threat to the press freedom is grand corruption from the governing elite. That is, the more the governing elite become corrupt, the more press freedom comes under threat.

Pauw should brace himself for the same ordeals that Wa Afrika and Venter have endured, if not more.

Currently, South Africa falls between 15 and 25 on the World Press Freedom Index (WPFI), indicating that journalists in the country work in a "fairly good" environment. They are not safe, though. Besides Wa Afrika, Suna Venter bore the brunt of it all, from reportedly being shot in the face with an air rifle to being abducted and tied to a tree while the grass around her was set alight.

Venter was one of the eight journalists dubbed the "SABC 8", who took the SABC to the Constitutional Court for censoring violent protests, a decision unilaterally taken on a whim by its former chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The eight wanted the court to order Parliament to institute an inquiry into the draconian editorial policy at the SABC. The court dismissed their application on the ground of judicial overreach.

Pauw should brace himself for the same ordeals that Wa Afrika and Venter have endured, if not more. Having already received three death threats, he should brace himself for tyrannical tricks from the rogue elements within the state security and a break-in squad.

AFP/Getty Images
South African investigative journalist Jacques Pauw looks on during the official presentation of his latest book 'The President's Keepers' in Johannesburg, South Africa on November 8, 2017. The book, released last month, paints a vivid picture of Zuma's scandal-tainted presidency as corrupt, incompetent and nepotistic.

By now, the rogue elements are not only eavesdropping on his phone calls but also keeping tabs on his movements for an opportune time to break into his house and ransack it, looking for classified information at his disposal. He has nowhere to hide.

It happened with Venter, who died in mid-2017 of stress cardiomyopathy, also known as broken heart syndrome. The rogue elements broke into her car at an undisclosed place, where she had hidden herself, and ransacked it.

Interestingly, the State Security Agency (SSA) sent a cease and desist letter to Pauw and his book publisher, NB Publishers, a day after President Jacob Zuma had appeared in the National Assembly (NA), where a few opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) held copies of the book during the question-and-answer session.

RAJESH JANTILAL/ AFP/ Getty Images
A staff member of the Exclusive Books bookshop at the Gateway Mall in Durban sets up a shelf with the new book 'The President's Keepers' written by investigative journalist and author Jacques Pauw on October 29, 2017 in Durban, South Africa.

In the book, Pauw alleges that Zuma failed to submit his tax returns for the first five years of his presidency and cashed in a R1-million salary from Royal Security, a company owned by controversial businessperson and ANC supporter Roy Moodley for four months after becoming president in 2009, among other revelations.

The South African Revenue Services (SARS), run by Zuma's chief lackey in Tom Moyane, has threatened to institute a civil action against Pauw and the Sunday Times, which ran an extract from the book.

Molifi Tshabalala is an independent political analyst.