We did not know – that was the plaintive cry of those who did not speak out against the evils of apartheid and Nazi Germany.
The general population and those in a position to decry these two wicked systems, and who kept silent, use this defence, some to this day.
There will not be the same opportunity for any of those who have gorged at the state capture trough, or their supporters.
As ANC factions prepare for next month’s elective conference, citizens watch and wait to see if the party can “self-correct”, and what, if anything, can be done to begin to recover as a nation.
Looting Inc has been slowly but steadily exposed by whistleblowers, the media, opposition parties, the former public protector, and a growing sector of organisations and individuals.
The scope of the invasion is sometimes obscured by the drip-feed of information. A few tens of billions of rand revealed here and a million or 240 there; the placement of incompetents, thugs, and some with zero moral fibre or integrity to support Looting Inc’s agenda causes outbreaks of vocal condemnation and impotent public fury. And, of course, vehement denials.
Enemy of the People puts the bleak picture into one frame. With the explosive story of Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers, it becomes Hieronymus Bosch-like.
Both agree that Zuma’s single focus is to stay out of court, and possibly jail, and to make himself and his family as rich as possible. They both describe Zuma as disarmingly charming and personable. And utterly ruthless when it comes to discarding allies when he is done with them.
Enemy systematically unpacks the takeover of the state from around the time of the trial and conviction of Schabir Shaik, Zuma’s benefactor and organiser of arms-deal payments, and the genesis of the fraud, corruption and racketeering charges he must still face.
There is Nkandla and Zuma’s obfuscation during his interview with then public protector Thuli Madonsela in which he, through his lawyer Michael Hulley, declined to answer any questions at all; the betrayal of the constitution, as found by the Constitutional Court in 2016 when he finally accepted the public protector’s rulings in her report, Secure in Comfort, on his liability to pay back some of the money used to upgrade his homestead.
Then the reader is introduced to the Guptas and the budding tentacles of stories of state capture start to take root. They burst in to full bloom with the Waterkloof Air Force Base, the “blue-light” escorts for the 200-plus guests to Sun City for the lavish Gupta wedding and the man who took the fall for “Number One”.
From there, Basson and Du Toit unpack the infiltration – institution by institution and state-owned-enterprise by state-owned-enterprise – of allies, lackeys, and the corrupt. They say it will take decades for these institutions to recover, even if there is the political will to do so.
As state institutions meant to protect citizens from abuses of power have been invaded and destroyed, the courts have often been South Africans’ last hope.
The “lawfare”, however, is not without challenges, says Enemy: skilled and devious operators have and are using every ploy available to them to avoid or delay a “day in court” that will expose the rot to the light, and lead to possible healing.
Basson and Du Toit do offer a glint of hope: they celebrate the growing rise of civil society finally crying “enough”.
At this stage, Pauw’s book needs little explanation. It has attracted the attention of South Africa’s spies and the Hawks because of an alleged contravention of the Intelligence Services Act, and is flying off the shelves (literal and digital) as fast as it can be printed.
The State Security Agency is one of its subjects; another cracks the lid on the destruction of one of South Africa’s best crime-fighting institutions – the South African Revenue Service.
So much of the work carried out by this institution was done quietly – to fulfil the legal confidentiality requirements, and to keep ahead of the bad guys – and the full spectrum of investigations, prosecutions and wins it achieved never made the headlines. Billions of ill-gotten rand and assets were recovered for South Africa’s coffers. Now, gangsters and killers run amok, says Pauw, because they know they have protection from on high.
Pauw takes his readers on an astonishing trip through the dark side of the nation which has made graveyards of good people’s lives and careers, and elevated those who will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their inflated livelihoods.
One day after the Treasury was finally breached, the fired keeper of the keys, Pravin Gordhan, said: “You don’t need to be a genius to see the trend in the country. I’m not going to interpret what this means, or what the urgency is. What I am telling you is that you have history unfolding in front of you… I think South Africans have a responsibility to connect these dots.”
Here are three South Africans – with the help of some very courageous sources – who have started the dot-connecting process.
In doing so, and as more dots become clearer in future, they have made it impossible for anyone to claim “I did not know”.
The Independent on Saturday