Our Country's Keepers
Jacques Pauw's The President's Keepers can fill one with despair;
it can infuse one with hope, humility and the challenge to emulate a new league of Moral heroes.
Yes, I thought long and hard about reading Jacques Pauw's book. What would it tell me? That our president is corrupt? I knew that. That he is very, extra, exceptionally, venally corrupt? Knew that too. That he is enabled by a bacterial colony of slimy, gravy-encrusted cronies. Ditto.
The title of the book was depressing too. Unlike Cain who indignantly declared, "Am I my brother's keeper!", but was a very poor help indeed; South Africa's president has a host of underlings who have kept him very well indeed. All common knowledge.
But what was not common knowledge, until the publication of Pauw's book, were the stories of a host of uncoordinated, unlikely heroes who have gone through hell and back again to fight for what is right.
That sentence sounds so trite in our jaded, postmodern age. Who "fights for what is right" today? I thought to myself, "These guys must have had an ulterior motive for opposing Zuma. There is always an angle!"
Except, when there isn't.
Except when people actually believe in wrong and right; are committed policewomen and men, civil servants, intelligence agents, lawyers and judges, who feel their vocations to be much more than just jobs; who see themselves as agents for all of us, fighting corruption and evil on our behalf.
When I began the book, initially I felt overwhelmed and discouraged, as I had excepted. But then as I read, I began to feel humbled, daunted and challenged.
I began to allow myself to be astounded by the courage, morality, commitment and guts of a long list of people who fought the rot at great personal cost. I realised that these people could be something out of Hollywood and the Bible and Children's stories, except they're real. And they are not the high profile warriors we all love - not the Gordhans, Nenes, Jonas's, Breyetnbachs and Madonselas's; they are anonymous.
And then I allowed myself to feel dwarfed by them and challenged by them.
Would I have the courage of an Ivan Pillay, to walk into the lion's den again and again to demand that the president of the country pay his taxes? Would I hold my own party to account for its unpaid taxes? Would I be prepared to have my name smeared, my reputation ruined, lose my job?
Could I be a Johann van Loggerenberg, a Kobus Meiring, a Paul Engelke, a Gene Ravele, an Anwa Dramat, a Shadrack Sibiya, or a Johan Booysen? Would I be prepared to have my life threatened and that of my family?
And then I allowed myself to realise what this book means for me and for our country.
For me it is a dramatic gauntlet. These people are a challenge to every small act I perform, which enables corruption. Every South African is offered the opportunity to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Do I pay the bribe to get out of the traffic ticket? Do I hide my income or declare it? Can I hide behind the cynicism of "everyone does it", if some don't? If these women and men can endanger their lives so that I and my fellow South Africans can live free lives, if they risk it all, can I not do a little better myself?
And secondly, South Africa is probably the only country in the world with a fully documented, public list of qualified, capable civil servants in a variety of spheres, who are truly, empirically, incorruptible. Tried and tested. The people above and others have been tested in a crucible of bribes, threats and public humiliation; and they have passed with flying colours. What country wouldn't want such a list?
Can you imagine what South Africa would look like if these heroes and those like them were allowed just to do their jobs, let alone lead the country? It would be incredible; and that is a future worth hoping for. It is a future of which we can all strive to be worthy.
So, for what it is worth, thank you Jacques Pauw, Johann van Loggerenberg, Kobus Meiring, Paul Engelke, Gene Ravele, Anwa Dramat, Shadrack Sibiya, Johan Booysen and all the other silent heroes. Thank you for the hope. I pray to be more worthy of it myself and for our country to be.