We can’t allow government to succeed in its attempts to ban and block The President’s Keepers; in fact it must fail, said the book’s author, Jacques Pauw.
Speaking on the sidelines of the 10th Global Investigative Journalism Conference, Pauw said, “We have the freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution and we must use it and we must protect it. If government succeeds they will do it again.” He added with a wry smile, “I hope government has learnt a lesson now that their meddling in the affairs of the book has just resulted in more and more people buying it and the message spreading wider and wider.”
Pauw knew before the book was published that there would be a reaction from law enforcement agencies. “I expected them to react quicker, but they waited a week … We were scared they would go to court before the book got published and ask for an urgent application,” he cheekily remarked.
Currently, Pauw is being investigated for a series of criminal charges. Last Monday morning (13 November) law enforcement in Durban tried to get a warrant of arrest for Pauw, but the magistrate wouldn’t sign it. The State Security Agency said it may still go to court to try and get the book banned, but Pauw said it was “too late now”.
The book is a legal minefield
Throughout the writing of the book, Pauw engaged with lawyers to try and avoid tramping on the legal minefield. “We had a final consultation with a senior counsel and we decided to go for it. The publishers were very brave publishing the book almost unchanged, as I gave them the manuscript,” said Pauw.
“There are issues about the Intelligence Act, there are issues about the Tax Administration Act, but as far as we’re concerned, we haven’t broken any law and I’m legally in possession of the material that I published,” he adds.
When Pauw was writing the book, he and his sources didn’t just phone each other. They communicated via Messenger and Telegram and other similar platforms. “I said to all of them before the book got published that we have to completely break communication, so I have no communication with them,” Pauw explained.
He revealed that there was an emergency route the parties could follow if something went wrong, but that he’d made a deal that after the book was published, he and his sources would not contact each other. Pauw also purged his computer, phone and any documents giving details of any of the sources. “The sources, as far as I know at the moment, are well protected and their names will never emerge,” he concluded.
Reminders of the apartheid era government
Government’s attempts to block access to Pauw’s book is reminiscent of times during the apartheid era when books were banned, journalists were arrested and publications shut down. Pauw emphasised, “We haven’t seen this, what is happening now, since we became a democracy in 1994 … This is the first time the state has attempted to ban a book.” He said he believed more attempts would be made on his book, as well as future ones which displease the government.
“We have only three pillars that stand between us and a gangster state. The courts, and they’ve been fantastic; civil society, which has reacted incredibly as well, and freedom of the press. If we lose this we are going to slip into a gangster state,” he concluded.
Here is the full interview:
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