The President’s Keepers: State capture, white vindication


The Johannesburg launch of Jacques Pauw’s controversial book, “The President’s Keepers”, was a noteworthy event. For some, the launch represented a rallying point against the scourge of state corruption. For others the hype surrounding the book itself, which has attracted legal action and an attempt to ban, was simply just very exciting. But for others, the thing that stood out most was something quite separate – it was how incredibly white the audience at the book launch was.

As Sunday Times journalist Qaanitah Hunter noted, the event’s audience was white not just in pigmentation, but also in terms of attitude associated with white-dominated spaces in SA.

Hunter’s reflection brings to light an ongoing awkwardness surrounding the state capture narrative – that for some people, it vindicates their scepticism of the post-1994, black government. Pauw’s book, unconsciously or otherwise, plays into this.

Pauw’s book is narrated from his own vantage point. It goes into a fair amount of detail into his life, family, farm and contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. By the end of the book, we’re well-versed in the systems of Zuma’s patronage – but have also come to know Pauw quite well. If the book’s content is about state capture, then the protagonist of it is Pauw himself – a white, Afrikaans man. But more than that, it’s the story of how he, after retiring to his farm, decides to “step out of retirement” to help the post-apartheid state as it struggles against a corrupt dispensation. It’s easily understood how this story would read to those who still nurture sentiments that the country was better off under white rule or who struggle to let go of racist stereotypes.

As Hunter observed of the event: “There was a smug sense of ‘You see what happens when you put blacks in charge.’”

Considering this, and the exclusionary venue for the launch, it’s unsurprising that the book launch had the demographics it did. The book, as with much of the subtext surrounding state capture, appeals directly to a sense of white vindication.

If we are to continue to take the state capture narrative seriously, the fact that this subtext exists must be addressed and challenged.

It is inadequate and evasive to claim that any substantial criticism of state capture is to be attributed to Bell Pottinger and “paid Twitter” propaganda. People are not ignorant and attempts to sideline or dismiss apparent sentiments surrounding a movement’s tone and the reasons it appeals to many people only acts to further polarise views. It cannot be the case where people feel they are forced to choose between siding with Zuma and the Guptas’ state corruption, or joining the anti-state capture brigade which is forgiving of passive aggressive apartheid apologism so long as it results in Zuma’s removal. We deserve more nuance than the false dichotomy of either being captured or being an agent of white monopoly capital.

It does not help that mainstream media and most political commentators have seemingly decided that state capture is the one topic where nuance is allowed be thrown out of the window. Since the row with Black First Land First (BLF), there’s a distinct sense that most media houses and public figures are championing the state capture narrative as their own baby – defensively guarding it from any substantial criticism lest it be used against them. While we should by no means assume the media is impartial, it is nevertheless disappointing that the media is not adequately performing its role in facilitating conversation in times of political polarisation – but rather adding to it by often dismissing complexity in favour of a simple and overly determined single narrative of South Africa’s problems.

State capture has become a popular national discussion – as political analyst Steven Friedman points out, there are yet more books about state capture coming out from white journalists – but as with all populist dialogue, it needs to be appropriately scrutinised. Let’s hope the future allows for more critical engagement with the works, their motivations and points of appeal, as opposed to the circle of cheerleaders and nodding heads that media commentary seems to have become when anything criticising Zuma comes out.

Featured image by Rumana Akoob


  1. comrades I have not read this book but it appear it is making President Jacob Zuma scapegoat for corruption for employing legal methods or/plus not employing any method at all in existence or non existence of conditions likely every president South Africa have confronted. This is not intended to vindicate President Zuma if he is guilty of corruption but we need give same scrutiny to him that was given to all that came before him. If President Zuma is guilty of corruption likely using same methods all presidents before him used how is it all presidents before President Zuma escaped corruption charges? I have a problem with that condition plus wonder if it is a condition filled with Apartheid like persecution of A Buntu (negroid) president. Another important factor is that if we follow business trail of Guptas we will find methods that very rich of South Africa are employing in obtaining government contract charging far in excess what it would cost for government to employ permanent workers to do job. In making this point I add “rich” in fearing removal of their overly wealthy contract as Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma acknowledge she would do is attacking President Jacob Zuma in hope that Dr. Dlamini Zuma will not be elected next president of South Africa due to ex-spousal relation with President Zuma. In short she is projected as guilty of corruption due to association with President Zuma despite fact President Zuma nor Dr. Dlamini Zuma have not been proven guilty of corruption. We should not ignore what Guptas business trail have taught us about wealthy of South Africa plus neither should we allow rich to trick people of South Africa into not electing Dr. Dlamini Zuma who face to face told rich of South Africa she is going remove their rich charity from government contracts plus provide those funds to conditions which upgrade living conditions for as many of non rich as possible. Stupid is what Stupid do. People of South Africa are not stupid. Very much sincere, Henry Author (people of Books) Price Jr. aka Obediah Buntu IL-Khan aka Kankan aka Gue.

  2. This is rich coming from a Sunday Times reporter.. Those of us who’ve read Pauw’s book know the special role the ST played in disseminating false news regarding the so-called Cato Manor Death Squad which led to Hawks Major-General Johan Booysen and 25 others being falsely charged by criminal attorneys (Zuma lackeys) working in the NPA.
    So congrats on an immense contribution to State Capture!

  3. If nonwhites failed to pitch and show interest, that is an indictment on them, and not the people who were there. Also, reporting the Sunday Times is not exactly something to proud of… They are as much to blame for the mess at SARS as is KPMG.

  4. So what were the black people doing there ? to show their ignorance of the fact that Zuma has delivered racism on a platter for those who think that blacks are incapable of anything. I really miss the Mbeki years. Madiba was just nice to pat, smile at and put away but not Mbeki.

  5. Dear Qaanitah, always with the blaming of white people eh, but sheesh calling Pauw the protagonist instead of whistleblower just because he’s white & Afrikaans? That’s even lower than the Guptas raping us for their spawn’s bollywood wedding..

    Pity you don’t seem to read the news so lekker, ‘cos even the revered commander of the red overall army, Malema, said (of the Zuma presidency) that all we whites have to do is point at Zuma’s precidency and say ‘see, we told you so’. I know it’s not as general as ‘see what happens when you put blacks in charge’ but simply blaming whites, although hugely popular nowadays of course, ain’t gonna cut it this time.

    Thing is blacks WERE in control, and yeah it’s a goddam mess. But just because whites are enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at being proven right, doesn’t change the facts. I’d suggest analysing what the book’s trying to tell you, instead of trying to deflect by focusing on the skin color of the person who wrote it mkay. That’s just racis!


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