Book review: 'Good men and women do not always survive'

Enemy of the People (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
Enemy of the People (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Enemy of the people is the latest in a series of insightful books providing disturbing detail on the way in which President Zuma has captured the state for his benefit and that of his corrupt friends and associates.

The book, by seasoned journalists Adriaan Basson and Pieter Du Toit, paints a grim picture of not only state capture but also Zuma's disastrous Presidency.

It is a detailed yet easily accessible account of Zuma's ascent to power and those, including Zwelinzima Vavi, Julius Malema and Blade Nzimande, who played a key role in it.

The book starts with that fateful moment at the ANC's elective conference in Polokwane in 2007 when Dren Nupen announces Zuma as the ultimate victor. For those of us who were there, an uneasy feeling followed.

Basson and Du Toit neatly unpack the reasons for such unease with Zuma as they describe 'the coalition of the wounded' who left with the spoils after Polokwane.

They also helpfully provide further context as they trace Zuma's relationship with businessman Schabir Shaik and Shaik's own corruption trial. That trial illustrated the kind of man Zuma has always been – beholden to those who would meet his ever-increasing financial needs and someone who could not be trusted with his own finances.

Enemy of the people is well-researched and meticulously details the way in which Zuma first captured the ANC and then the state.

His initial charm offensive was short-lived and soon he was no longer interested in placating his supporters specifically within the tripartite alliance but instead 'went rogue'.

The book deals with this extremely well and provides a useful guide to anyone wanting to understand how we got here and how Zuma has been able to survive. The account of how the alliance was neutralised in the first five years is especially pertinent as the ANC chaotically hurtles towards its December elective conference in Midrand.

Nkandla, of course, is one of the most serious inflection points during the Zuma years and Basson and Du Toit recount this very effectively. It is also a hat-tip to their former colleague and journalist Mandy Rossouw who died in 2013.

It was Rossouw, whom the authors acknowledge at the end, who first raised the crucial questions about upgrades being made to Zuma's Nkandla home. The book refers to her dogged determination to get to the bottom of who was paying for the extensive upgrades.

We should all be grateful for Mandy's persistence. Enemy of the people is a timely reminder of the central role investigative journalists play in shedding light on what those in power do not wish us to see.

In the Prologue, the authors ask the question that is central to the entire book: "How did a man who swore on 9 May 2009 that he would commit himself 'to the service of our nation with dedication, commitment, discipline, integrity, hard work and passion' come to embody everything that is wrong with South Africa?"

It goes on to say, "…Zuma and his circle of rogue protectors broke not only the country's spirit and moral fibre, but also our hearts."

How true that is. For possibly the most poignant parts of the book are those dealing with the axing of two fine men – former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his predecessor Nhlanhla Nene.

One can only read these pages and cry for our beloved country. The chapters provide details on how SARS was captured and then how Treasury's defenses were finally breached. 

Former director-general Lungisa Fuzile is quoted heavily in these sections. He describes in devastating detail how he tried to hold the fort after Nene was fired and how Des Van Rooyen's three lackeys – and let us remember their names: Mohamed Bobat, Ian Whitley (son-in-law of Jessie Duarte, ANC deputy secretary-general) and Malcolm Mabaso – arrived asking for access to Treasury files on SAA and took over the office of Malcolm Geswint, Nene's former chief of staff. 

Fuzile describes being given instructions by Des Van Rooyen to "arrange access cards" for the three men despite the fact that no protocol had been followed. Fuzile is in his words, "flabbergasted". 

Of course, the rest is history but Fuzile's account of Gordhan's – or 'PG' as he is known – return is equally filled with emotion and then contrasted by the callous and reckless act when Zuma eventually recalls Gordhan, Fuzile, Jonas and their entourage from abroad and fires them all in the dead of the night.

The account of this time is illustrated succinctly but without losing the sense of enormous crisis and bewilderment that followed Gordhan's axing.

If the book describes Nkandla as a crucial inflection point, then Gordhan's departure was a crisis point or an inevitable watershed moment.

What is striking and moving about Fuzile's account is the way in which it so clearly reinforces the fact that good men and women do not always survive. In Fuzile's words, we really do comprehend the pressure good people within the system are under to bend the rules for Zuma and his cronies.

But Enemy of the People does not only focus on state capture but also on the subsequent 'fight back' by civil society groups such as Save South Africa, the Helen Suzman Foundation, the Right to Know campaign and also the academics' report on the shadow state.

It then helpfully also dedicates a chapter to the ten most important political cases brought to court during the Zuma years.

Entitled, 'Ten trials that changed our history', it is a worthwhile chronology and a guide to the years of lawfare we have witnessed – most of it aimed at trying to get the president to somehow account for his actions. It includes the litigation related to Nkandla, the 'spy tapes' and the nuclear deal.

On the ways in which civil society has galvanised, the book may be slightly too optimistic regarding the impact the #Zumamustfall and other marches have had in the immediate aftermath of Gordhan's axing. 

South Africa has a lot more work to do in connecting the dots between state capture and the state's multiple failures to deliver basic services. We seem a while away from a South Korea scenario where ordinary citizens consistently occupied spaces in order to bring about change and remove Park Guen-Hye.

Overall the book provides an accurate and succinct chronology of state capture. It is an extremely worthwhile addition to the body of evidence which shows us the enormity of the challenge South Africa faces as this destructive presidency hurtles to its inevitably messy end.

- Judith February is a governance specialist, lawyer and columnist based at the Institute for Security Studies.  Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february 

* Enemy of the people is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

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