Ever since the State Security Agency (SSA) issued a “cease and desist” lawyer’s letter over further publishing and distribution of investigative journalist Jacques Pauw’s book, The Presidents Keepers, people have been sharing a free copy in ever greater numbers with friends and family privately, and across numerous social media platforms.
Pauw told The Citizen he expected the book to stir things up, but said he was “overwhelmed by the reaction”. Unavailable in print, the book can be purchased online at various publishers.
The SSA’s attempt to block the book is a case study in a phenomenon called the Streisand Effect, when an attempt to censor something has the effect of publishing the information much more widely than anticipated.
“The book has almost become a rallying point against corruption in SA,” Pauw said. “Civil society realises that we are entering the realm of a gangster state. They’ve had enough. It must stop. And I think what is encouraging is Nelson Mandela’s rainbow nation is taking up arms against Jacob Zuma and his coterie of thugs and crooks.”
The leaks of devastating information against the apparent corrupt doings of government have become common place enough for it to retreat behind the idea of “an attack on a constitutional democracy”.
Wits associate law professor and practicing advocate James Grant said SSA would ironically be relying on very old “draconian” State security legislation since Zuma had failed to sign the Protection of State Security Bill.
“Here’s the thing, the constitutional values are going to be the ultimate defence on which any individual that they go after, will have to rely on,” said Grant.
“While Sars and SSA might be touting the constitution, it’s the constitutional values to the right of access to information, to the freedom of the press, it’s these rights which are going to limit their rights to a very large extent by virtue of public interest.”
There’s a wide line between the public being interested in something, and something which is in the public interest.
“Despite the fact there is no public interest defence built into any of these acts, it’s built into each and every criminal offence in South Africa that if something is in the public interest, by virtue of the right the public has in the constitution, then it cannot be criminal,” Grant said emphatically.
Pauw said Sars had a dilemma.
“I welcome the opportunity to prove in court that not only have we not been breaking any law, but that Sars have been guilty many times of disclosing confidential tax payer’s information,” said Pauw.