THE BLOG
08/11/2017 07:53 SAST | Updated 09/11/2017 09:13 SAST

Mandy Wiener: Jacques Pauw Takes Us Back Into The Heart Of The Whore

Pauw’s book sucks you in and spits you out, leaving you overwrought and assaulted.

When Jacques Pauw hung up his pen in 2014 and embarked on his new career as a chef-restaurateur in Riebeek-Kasteel, I and no doubt many other journalists breathed a selfish sigh of relief. In the competitive game of investigative journalism, scoops and sources are highly valued commodities and Pauw was a relentless breaker of sensational stories.

So when he dropped his explosive book "The President's Keepers", we knew we were going to be rocked. And we were. The entire country was and as his co-founder at the Vrye Weekblad exclaims on the cover, this is indeed dynamite.

TAFELBERG PUBLISHERS

Pauw's book sucks you in and spits you out, leaving you overwrought and assaulted. When I closed the back cover and put it down having devoured every page, I felt deeply frantic and bewildered, as if I had been struck a blow to the solar plexus. It reads like a thriller and much of this is attributed to by Pauw's writing style. In his own parlance, it has a lot of "spin on the ball". He knows how to sex up a story and the narrative is thick with descriptive anecdote and his own cynical commentary.

You feel as though you are sitting at the bar with this veteran hack, over brandy and Cokes. It is his descriptions of how the Zuma presidency is 'oozing Gupta puss from virtually every state orifice' and how JZ has "unleashed a pack of Rottweilers" that paints the picture for the reader of the reality of the country. This is not a book you have to slog through like running across a desert with a sandbag over your head.

Having said that, though, it is dense and brimming with facts. It is not always an easy read as the cast of characters is full and diverse, the relationships are complex and the details intricate. This is not a book you should be keeping for the beach in Umhlanga over December. It's far too depressing and draining. Many of the events Pauw writes about I have personally covered during my career, from the Jiba/Mrwebi/Breytenbach debacle at the NPA, the Mdluli/Killer/KGB mess at Crime Intelligence, the Sars rogue unit saga and the dirty world of Liffman, Agliotti and Mazzotti.

What he has managed to do is add an extra layer to each of these through tapping his extensive network of sources. He provides the answers to the questions of "Why" or "What for" that we raise in our frontline reporting. He pulls together the disparate pieces of the bigger puzzle into a masterful landscape of the state of the nation and the shadow it has cast behind it.

Masi Losi/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images
President Jacob Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sing and dance during the African National Congress (ANC) 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 05, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In every single chapter, there is a new revelation, a potential headline story. In fact, there are so many that I was surprised that the Sunday Times chose to feature the same NDZ Mazzotti story two weeks in a row when the book is jammed full of exposes. By some standards, Pauw has been reckless and subversive. He has published information that other journalists had but were too cautious to print. He has bucked the accepted norm of offering a right of reply, arguing that it was not necessary to do so because of public interest.

This does not sit well with me but as premier media lawyer Dario Milo explains, "Provided that you're sure that your sources are reliable, that you're publishing the substantial truth and what you're saying is in the public interest, it actually doesn't matter." When I spoke to underworld fixer Glenn Agliotti and Carnilinx boss Adriano Mazzotti last week, they were both pretty pissed that they weren't given the opportunity to state their case by Pauw.

For the sake of journalism and for Pauw, I hope that every word of it is true because we have given him our trust and the consequences of a book that has become a phenomenon such as this one are far-reaching and game changing.

Their view was that he had been too hasty to publish and had used their names to sensationalise the story. Evidently, he's also pissed off the SSA and SARS by dropping this bombshell, exposing their secrets. But perhaps the time has come to change the rules of the game and when Pauw and other journalists are up against the full might of the state machinery, then you have to use what's in your arsenal to get the truth out. As history has shown us, there is a very real risk that he would have been interdicted and the book would not have seen the light of day if he had offered all and sundry the opportunity to respond.

However, it is Pauw's heavy reliance on unnamed sources that will no doubt draw the harshest criticism. "The President's Keepers" is bolstered throughout by information and quotes from anonymous individuals. What this does is shine a light into the belly of the beast.

He has a remarkable ability to get spooks and spies to spill their guts. After all, he is the guy that exposed Vlakplaas and got Dirk Coetzee to come clean. He has been into the heart of the whore and now he is taking us back again with him.

Anonymous sourcing is a necessary evil in journalism. It is because of whistle-blowers who speak their conscience that we are able to expose to the public what is in their interest. Courageous individuals like Watergate whistle-blower Mark Felt have contributed to the greatest scoops in history. Journalist Bob Woodward explains that "using these unnamed sources if done properly, carefully and fairly, provides more accountability in government". That is precisely what Pauw has sought to achieve, is accountability in government.

It may just be the key that opens the Pandora's box of state secrets. However, for the sake of the country, I wish none of it were true. It is too frightening to be reality.

This means by implication that we invest a great deal of trust in the journalist. If he is not naming the source of the information, we have to trust him that he is telling us the truth. That trust is directly proportional to reputation and Pauw's reputation in this game is legendary. If I had to pick a journalist to go into war for the rest of us in the fourth estate, he would likely be it.

It is problematic that there are inaccuracies in the book that I (and others) have picked up. But these are minor and relatively inconsequential to the broader message of the publication. When you are writing a manuscript that is so full of facts and names and dates, it is incredibly difficult to verify every single one. But when you know you will be facing a massive backlash and a potential legal fight, it is a must.

My worry is that these mistakes will be jumped on and used against him to discredit the bulk of the book when the essence of it is true. As a Crime Intelligence officer told me this week, "Too much of it is true". For the sake of journalism and for Pauw, I hope that every word of it is true because we have given him our trust and the consequences of a book that has become a phenomenon such as this one are far-reaching and game-changing. It may just be the key that opens the Pandora's box of state secrets. However, for the sake of the country, I wish none of it were true. It is too frightening to be reality.