AUTHOR JACQUES PAUW:
When retired investigative journalist Jacques Pauw released his explosive exposé, The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison, the State Security Agency immediately wanted it removed from circulation. Who is the man who dared to
The man behind the incendiary exposé The President’s Keeper, PLUS an extract from the book
‘ AT the moment, I’m suffering from an identity crisis,’ says Jacques as we sit in 45-degree heat in the courtyard of Red Tin Roof, the Riebeek-Kasteel guesthouse and restaurant he opened with his wife, former journalist Sam Rogers, when they ‘retired’ in 2014. ‘I don’t know what I am. During the week I am busy with publicity for the book but on weekends I’m helping in the kitchen because we’re so packed at the moment.’
An ‘accidental’ journalist, he had no idea what to do with his political science degree after his national service, so when he saw a newspaper ad for a junior journalist at
Rapport, he applied. ‘It wasn’t as though I had a great passion to become a journalist.’ Jacques, who grew up in Pretoria, says his parents weren’t too keen on journalism as a career for him either. ‘They were quite conservative. My father was a headmaster and my mother, a teacher. Up to the day my mother died, she asked: “So when are you going to get a proper job?”’
He worked at Rapport until 1987 before moving to Huisgenoot for about a year. ‘At the end of 1988, Max du Preez decided to start an anti-apartheid Afrikaans newspaper, Vrye Weekblad. He had great difficulty getting people to work for him because he didn’t quite know where the money was going to come from, and it was quite risky because there was still security legislation,’ says Jacques. ‘So Max, myself, and four others started this newspaper. It was a great adventure. In the first edition, we featured a photograph of Joe Slovo on the front cover. At the time, the ANC and the Communist Party were banned, so Max was immediately charged with violating security legislation.’
This didn’t deter them in the least. ‘In the second edition, I defamed PW Botha, who was president at the time.’ Botha duly sued Jacques, which hit the headlines. ‘I remember my mother phoning me, crying. She asked if I could use a pseudonym because
I’d become a scandal to the family.
‘We progressed from there – Max became the most prosecuted and persecuted editor in South African newspaper history. We received many death threats, our offices were bombed and in November 1989 we exposed the police death squads at Vlakplaas. We exposed Eugene de Kock, which became a huge international story.’ Jacques stayed at Vrye
Weekblad until 1992. He has worked for some of the country’s biggest publications, including a stint as head of investigative journalism at Media24 newspapers, and has produced documentaries on wars and conflicts in Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Liberia, Sudan, the DRC and Sierra Leone, winning several awards along the way (including CNN African Journalist of the Year Award – twice). He’s also written five books: In the Heart of the Whore, Into the Heart of Darkness, Dances with Devils, Rat Roads and Little Ice Cream Boy.
So perhaps it was to be expected that his retirement in 2014 was short-lived. ‘I was tired of journalism and tired of writing,’ he explains. ‘I thought I’d never write again. I wanted to become a chef. I’ve always said there are only three things I do well: I garden well, tell stories well, and cook well.’ But he soon found the reality of the restaurant business rather different to the dream. ‘When we play around in the kitchen, we all think we’re Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver. Then when you walk into a commercial kitchen, it’s another story. On Sundays, we’re packed. We have up to 60 people, and then the kitchen is a warzone. When it’s 40 degrees outside, it’s 45 degrees in the kitchen because of these big pizza ovens.’
Although happy with his new direction, he nevertheless began to miss journalism and writing within a couple of years. ‘I think once you’re a journalist, you’re a journalist forever. That’s the case with me, anyway.’
His former colleague and friend, Max du Preez, lives just down the road, and it was Max who urged Jacques to start writing again. ‘He kept saying, “You must write about the cabal behind Jacob Zuma who are keeping him in power and out of prison.” I was thinking about it when I got a phone call, saying, “Listen, I’ve got information for you about fraud and corruption at the State Security Agency.”’
He compares his reaction to that of a rehabilitated heroin addict who got a syringeful of heroin again. ‘I just couldn’t help injecting myself. I think that’s how journalism is. When I got the opportunity to write the book, I just jumped at it. I got the call in December 2016 and within a week, I flew to Moscow to look for the person who held the key to the fraud and corruption story.’
Of course this kind of work exacts a personal toll. ‘I think this is the fourth book I’ve written since I’ve been with Sam. She says that when I’m writing a book she’s at her loneliest because I tend to live in my own little world. And with this one, I was up and down between Cape Town and Jo’burg, then sitting in my little corner, writing… and she was running the show.’
So why did he not simply pass the information on to another journalist? ‘I just thought, “I’m going to go for it,” Jacques recalls. ‘When I went to Moscow, I didn’t know whether it was going to work or not. I managed to trace Paul Engelke, but I didn’t get everything I wanted from him. When I came back, I started writing anyway. I went to Gauteng to try to find people in law enforcement agencies to speak to me, so it took some time before I knew I’d have enough for a book. It was difficult, because I knew I had to get the book out in
‘I thought I’d never write again. I wanted to become a chef. I’ve always said there are only three things I do well: I garden well, tell stories well, and cook well.’
2017 before the ANC Elective Conference.’
So he had no anxiety about taking on something this big?
‘No!’ he exclaims. ‘Lots of people ask me that. What I was nervous about was keeping the book a secret. So many people were involved, so many knew about it, but we couldn’t let it leak because of what I was going to reveal. If the law enforcement agencies, crime intelligence, the Hawks, State Security and SARS had found out, they could have taken steps to prevent it being published.’ Oppposite: Sam and Jacques at the entrance to their home. Above: Chairman Mao presiding over the dining area: an original poster of the iconic Chinese leader.
‘When I started writing it, Max said I’d be doing my national service all over again,’ he says. ‘I think I’ve done my national service three times: As a young white man in the eighties, I was forced to do it. The second time was when
Vrye Weekblad exposed police death squads. This is the third time. Once I started this, I had to finish. It was as simple as that.’
Has he ever actually met Zuma? ‘A few times. In fact, when we exposed the police death squads in November 1989, the ANC was still banned and Zuma was in
Lusaka. We worked very closely with ANC intelligence to smuggle Dirk Coetzee, commander of the death squad at some point, out of the country. When I met Zuma in Harare with Dirk Coetzee, he called me “the unguided missile”. Somebody reminded me the other day that when Vrye Weekblad won the defamation case against General Lothar Neethling in the High Court, we had a celebration party in January 1992 and Jacob Zuma was one of the first to arrive. But I haven’t seen him for many years.’
He has received many death threats since the book came out, but Jacques doesn’t pay too much attention to them.
‘It’s unsettling, but I don’t take it too seriously; if somebody is serious about killing you, he’s not going to warn you about it. I think there are lots of people out there who would like to get to me. The fact is, I’ve got a restaurant. The doors are open. Anyone can walk in and here I am. I’m not too concerned about the charges the state wants to bring against me either.’
He finds comfort, however, in the support he’s received from the public since the book’s release.
‘I think the biggest protection I have is all the publicity. They must realise that if they arrest me, or even if they just charge me and take me to court, we are going to sell another 50 000 books, and more people are going to read about their sins. That’s my protection. I’ve also got a brilliant team of lawyers who are ready to act, whatever they do.’
Jacques has received more documents leaking information since his book came out, some of which appeared in the Daily Maverick towards the end of last year.
‘When we had our book launch in Pretoria, I was sitting at the table signing books when I saw somebody drop a white plastic bag next to me, then walk away. It was state security documents. I have no idea who the person was. That’s the result of them threatening to take me to court and ban the book – people are going to leak more and more information.’
Jacques’s life has been chaotic since the book’s release – a far cry from the perfect retirement he (and Sam) must have imagined. But the Riebeek-Kasteel community is also very supportive. ‘They all knew I was writing a book. When my laptop was stolen, everybody was hysterical. That’s the thing about a little “dorpie” – the fact that I could get it back within 24 hours.’
An introvert, Jacques hates the publicity. ‘I don’t like attention. Every time I went to receive a journalism award, I was pissed out of my skull for fear of facing an audience. Since the book, when I go to the airport or to Checkers and that kind of thing, people stop me, so I can hardly move. And some want to take selfies with me, which is quite frightening. I don’t like it, but I have to deal with it.’
So what’s next? Will we be seeing more of Jacques Pauw the author, or Jacques Pauw the chef?
‘I have to see whether the state is in fact going to charge me. I might spend the next two years in court, fighting charges. My life is currently being controlled by my publicist, Jean, who tells me where to go and what to do. I’ll certainly write again because I enjoy it, but I’m not sure what…’
Whatever it is, if mysterious people are dropping off envelopes stuffed with incriminating papers at his feet, we can’t wait to read it!
SARS HAS SINCE LAID A CHARGE AGAINST JACQUES PAUW FOR PUBLISHING ‘CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION’ IN CONTRAVENTION OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN TAX ADMINISTRATION ACT.
Jacques Pauw at his guesthouse in Riebeek-Kasteel. In the background are urns containing the ashes of pets he and his wife Sam have had over the years.
Above Pauw’s Red Tin Roof is housed in a century-old manor house considered one of the grande dames of the valley. Country Life called it ‘no ordinary restaurant, bar and guesthouse’ and ‘the coolest country spot outside Cape Town’.
Above Jacques with Fiona Snyders, who runs the Red Tin Roof kitchen. Opposite Enjoying a rare relaxed moment in the bar, which boasts the couple’s eclectic art collection.