OPIN­ION Pauw merely the mes­sen­ger

Diamond Fields Advertiser - - OPINION -

IF THERE’S one salu­tary les­son to be learnt from the heavy-handed at­tempts to si­lence jour­nal­ist and au­thor Jac­ques Pauw over his con­tro­ver­sial book, The Pres­i­dent’s Keep­ers, it’s that South Africans should not take their hard-fought­for democ­racy for granted.

Democ­racy, af­ter all, did not ar­rive in our coun­try on a sil­ver plat­ter.

For many decades, the ma­jor­ity of South Africans lived un­der strict au­thor­i­tar­ian rule in which the gov­ern­ment of the day sim­ply rode rough shod over the rights of cit­i­zens to per­pet­u­ate an evil and racist regime.

In fact, it took many years of long and pro­tracted strug­gle, strife and sac­ri­fice be­fore democ­racy was achieved in 1994.

It is for this rea­son that we need to work vig­or­ously to en­sure these rights are never leg­is­lated away nor should they be di­luted, threat­ened or sub­jected to the mo­men­tary whim of an elec­toral ma­jor­ity at any given time.

Play­ing an in­valu­able role in this process was the me­dia, es­pe­cially in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists who used their craft to probe wrong­do­ing and cor­rup­tion and call gov­ern­ment and pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions to ac­count.

De­spite the re­pres­sive po­lit­i­cal cli­mate un­der apartheid, jour­nal­ists braved im­pris­on­ment and re­stric­tions by ex­pos­ing the ex­cesses of au­thor­i­tar­ian rule and the mis­er­able con­di­tions mil­lions of cit­i­zens were forced to en­dure un­der Na­tional Party rule.

Re­mem­ber Drum mag­a­zine’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into prison and farm labour con­di­tions in the 1950s; the ex­poses over the so-called Info Scan­dal in which the Nats used tax­payer funds to white­wash their dirty pro­pa­ganda cam­paign; and sto­ries that re­vealed the hor­rors of the Vlak­plaas death squads?

When democ­racy came in 1994, that proud tra­di­tion of lively in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism was main­tained, giv­ing rise to ma­jor ex­poses over the now in­fa­mous arms deal, gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, white col­lar crimes and more re­cently, the Nkandla scan­dal,

Pauw’s book, which in­cludes reve­la­tions of shock­ing al­le­ga­tions of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and cor­rup­tion in­volv­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and many other lead­ing politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, is but an­other chap­ter in a long-run­ning and ro­bust cam­paign to en­sure ac­count­abil­ity in gov­ern­ment.

Threat­en­ing to charge Pauw and pre­vent­ing fur­ther pub­li­ca­tion of his book is sim­ply a case of shoot­ing the mes­sen­ger.

The gov­ern­ment has a duty and re­spon­si­bil­ity to the pub­lic to get to the bot­tom of the se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions made in Pauw’s book which im­pact di­rectly on the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple.

Rather than threat­en­ing Pauw with spu­ri­ous charges, get to the heart of the mat­ter by prob­ing the al­le­ga­tions in his book.

If and when there is ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal in­volve­ment, those ac­cused of crimes must an­swer in court.

And if heads must roll, so be it.

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