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November 9, 2017

Will oft-embattled South African President Jacob Zuma finally be brought down by a book?


One wants to feel sympathy for South African president Jacob Zuma. Born into poverty in a nation riven by apartheid, as a young man he joined the fight against the racist apartheid government. He was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela and rose to the leadership of the African National Congress. In 1990, he helped negotiate the return of exiles to his homeland while himself an exile, and he became directly engaged in shaping future South African politics. (And more.)

Still, it’s not easy to be sympathetic toward Zuma. Aside from being a polygamist with four wives, he’s a documented misogynist and has stood trial for rape. He’s been charged, escaped charges, and been charged again for almost eight hundred counts of corruption arising from a $5 billion dollar weapons deal in 1999. He and his family have been accused of profiting off of deals with an Indian family, the Guptas, in exchange for influence within the South African government. (And more.)

Despite the numerous accusations, Zuma remains in power. But investigative journalist Jacques Pauw hasn’t given up. In his new book The President’s Keepers, Pauw describes why none of the charges against Zuma have succeeded in toppling him — because of a mafia-like organization that surrounds the president and protects him.

Lynsey Chutel at Quartz highlights a few notable examples:

One of those keepers is a security mogul who allegedly paid the sitting president a monthly salary of 1 million rand (about $70,000 a month). The paper trail emerged because it also seems the first citizen failed to pay his taxes…

Painting the picture of a man who seems more mobster than statesman, the book tells the story of the close relationship between the president and a notorious gangster who has miraculously avoided prison. It also casts light on an attempt to set up an illegal cigarette trade with Zuma’s blessing, and links to a controversial cigarette manufacturer seen buying campaign paraphernalia the presidential campaign of Zuma’s former wife and potential successor Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

In the Guardian this week, Alison Flood also reports on efforts of South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA) to stop the book’s publication by serving its publisher—Tafelberg, an imprint of NB Publishers—with threats of legal action. The cease-and-desist letter alleges that the information in the book is not just wrong, but criminally negligent and a threat to state security.

The news that the Zuma government tried to suppress the book’s publication has resulted in an immediate buying frenzy. The initial print run is already sold out, with over fifteen thousand orders this week alone. With supply limited, pirated versions have begun circulating on social media. The author is urging people to buy copies if they can — and to read the illegal copies if they can’t. “This is not about money,” Pauw wrote on Facebook. “It is about your support that is going to enable us to legally lock horns with SARS [the South African Revenue Service], the State Security Agency and whoever else drags us to court.”



Peter Clark is the sales manager at Melville House.