The book that sparked a defiance campaign

06 November 2017 - 07:09 By The Times Editorial
Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma
Image: Alaister Russell

Who would have thought that buying a book in a democratic South Africa would become an act of political protest?

But that is what has happened as the State Security Agency (and tax authorities) threaten to try and ban investigative journalist Jacques Pauw's book and to bring a criminal prosecution against him and the publishers of The President's Keepers.

As unlikely as these threats are to succeed, they nevertheless sparked an inspiring campaign of defiance.

First, someone obtained a digital copy of the work and began illegally distributing it in a misguided attempt to ensure that it would be available to be read. It spread like wildfire.

But what happened next was even more remarkable. Pauw and NB Publishers issued statements pointing out that the book was not banned yet. They asked those who could afford to, even if they had obtained the pirate copy, to rather order a digital edition from online vendors like Amazon.

They pointed out that a bruising battle still lay ahead and that they needed all the moral and financial support they could get. And South Africa listened.

By Saturday evening The President's Keepers had entered the top 10 of the fastest-selling ebooks on Amazon globally. It is practically sold out in book stores as the presses work overtime to meet unprecedented demand.

South Africans have sent a powerful message about how gatvol they are, reminding the state that no agency will be allowed to deny us the information to which we are constitutionally entitled. The public interest in The President's Keepers screams from every page.

But, more than a sensational book, what we need right now are heroes and Pauw and his publishers have delivered this too.

Their courage in publishing and their fortitude in the face of threats and danger deserve a standing ovation - and our undying support.