Why They Don’t Want You To Read ‘The President’s Keepers’

Jacques Pauw’s book, ‘The President’s Keepers’, is making waves, and it may soon be banned. Sounds like apartheid-era censorship to us.
Jason Snyman
Award-winning investigative journalist Jacques Pauw's new book, The President’s Keepers, is making waves. Rumour has it that our pal, JZ, has got his zangaphansi in a twist about it, and there are talks of having the book banned. The book exposes the corruption at the State Security Agency (SSA), the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Pauw details the ties President Jacob Zuma has to gangsters, as well as his income and tax affairs. He writes that Zuma failed to submit tax returns for years after becoming president. The book mentions the  people who have been helping him avoid it. The book further alleges that Zuma was on the payroll of a security company owned by one of his benefactors, pocketing R1 million a month. Speaking in parliament, Zuma denied receiving payments from private individuals and companies. In the wake, Pauw is gearing up for a massive legal challenge. SARS has threatened to bring criminal charges against him and the Sunday Times for publishing confidential taxpayer information, among other revelations. The book sold out within days, powered by the SSA’s threat to ban it. It hit the Amazon bestseller list worldwide. The SSA has demanded that the book be pulled from publication. It has threatened criminal prosecution for ‘unjustly’ accusing them of ‘criminal activity.’ There are no laws, however, that prevent journalists from releasing information they feel is of public interest. It may even be suggested that Zuma and his rotten government are employing apartheid-era tactics to intimidate critical media. Pauw, NB Publishers and booksellers alike remain defiant. Tens of thousands more copies of the book have been ordered and printed. The President’s Keepers isn’t the only book ever written to rub people up the wrong way, of course. We look at SA’s history of banning books.  

Steve Biko – I Write What I Like

I Write What I Like is a compilation of columns, speeches and interviews from anti-apartheid activist, Steve Biko. The book contains a selection of his writings from 1969 to 1972. The writings reflect Biko's conviction that black South Africans could not be liberated from white supremacy until they united to break their chains of servitude.  This was a key principle of the Black Consciousness Movement that he helped found. Topics ranged from black consciousness and black resistance of apartheid. He was almost prophetic in his warnings about the need to imagine political change beyond just a change in the race of those in power. His writings spoke not only of and to his own era, but beyond the confines of his lifetime. The words and work continue to provide insight into the flaws in our society. Biko was under a publishing ban when he wrote the book, completing it in 1972. It was only published in 1978, after his merciless death at the hands of the apartheid police.  

Nadine Gordimer – Burger’s Daughter

Burger’s Daughter tells the story of a group of white anti-apartheid activists who were attempting to overthrow the apartheid government. The book won praise for the intricate ways in which it links and changes between the protagonist’s moral and political predicament, as the daughter of an Afrikaans political dissident. The book explores the struggle of the white consciousness, ‘trapped in unearned and discomforting privilege.’ A month after the book was published in London, in 1979, the apartheid government banned the importing of it through the Publications Control Board. Several of Gordimer’s works were banned, but still widely read around the world. Along with her other work, Burger’s Daughter contributed to Nadine Gordimer winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.  

Alex La Guma –  And a Threefold Cord

La Guma wrote And A Threefold Cord to address the struggles of communities living in shacks during apartheid. The book was banned for highlighting the gross violations of the human rights of people under apartheid. Against the backdrop of violation and deprivation and struggle, the book follows the everyday lives of the people in the shacks. Their loves, losses, joys and sorrows are illuminated in detail. Alex La Guma is one of the most influential black authors of the 20th century. Most of his work was banned under the Publications Act and he was persecuted and silenced under the Suppression of Communism Act. He was eventually exiled, and died in Cuba.
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Other Books Banned In South Africa

Some of the books the apartheid government banned made little to no sense at all. For instance, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was banned in 1955 for being ‘objectionable and obscene.’ Similarly, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was also banned in 1964 for the same reasons, and so was Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses – up until 2002. The Satanic Bible, by Anton LaVey, found many haters all across the globe, but was ultimately only outright banned in South Africa from 1973 to 1993 for moral reasons. Wilbur Smith’s When the Lion Feeds was banned on the grounds of obscenity and blasphemy. Before it was banned and shut down, accused of being a communist propaganda tool, the Guardian exposed the ill-treatment of black workers under their white employers and other labour-related issues for over 26 years. After eventually collapsing due to political pressure from the apartheid government, the newspaper re-emerged under a new name, New Age. They continued to expose issues such as child abuse and forced labour. Andre Brink’s Kennis Van Die Aand was the first Afrikaans book to be banned by the South African government. Brink countered this by translating the work into English under the title of Looking On Darkness,  and publishing it abroad. And the most absurd of all – Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty – a classic children’s story about a horse, was banned because the words Black and Beauty appeared side by side.  

Sticking It To Zuma

If The President’s Keepers isn’t enough to slake your Zuma bloodlust, there are a number of other books to enjoy. Because I’m a fan of the author, Jeremy Gordin’s Zuma: A Biography. For something a little more cut-throat, try Zuma Exposed or the forthcoming Enemy Of The People - How Jacob Zuma Stole South Africa And How The People Fought Back by Adriaan Basson. Pieter du Toit joins him on the latter. For something a lot funnier, Paige Nick’s satirical take on JZ – Unpresidented – will have you rolling around on the ground with laughter. We laugh… If only to keep from crying.