Our Country’s Keepers

  • ParshaRabbiWidmonte
Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers, can leave readers either despairing or infused with hope, humility and a sense of being challenged to emulate a new league of moral heroes.
by RABBI RAMON WIDMONTE | Jan 18, 2018

I thought long and hard about reading this book. What would it tell me: that our president is corrupt? I knew that. That he is exceptionally, venally corrupt? I 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 Jacob Zuma has a host of underlings who have kept him very well ensconced. All of this is 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. These people are committed police officers, civil servants, intelligence agents, lawyers and judges, who feel their vocations to be much more than just jobs: they see themselves as agents for all of us citizens, fighting corruption and evil on our behalf.

When I began reading the book, I initially felt overwhelmed and discouraged, as I expected would be the case. Then as I read on, 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, the Bible and children’s stories – except for the fact that they’re real.

And they are not the high-profile warriors we all love – not the Pravin Gordhans, Nhlanhla Nenes, Mcebisi Jonases, Glynnis Breytenbachs and Thuli Madonselas. They are anonymous.

And then I allowed myself to feel dwarfed by them – and challenged by them.

Would I have the courage of former South African Revenue Service deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay to walk into the lion’s den, again and again, to demand that the president 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? Would I be prepared to 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, and that of my family, threatened?

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 that 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? 

South Africa is probably the only country in the world with a fully documented, publicly available list of qualified, capable civil servants in a variety of spheres who are truly, empirically incorruptible. Tried and tested. The people mentioned 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, both named and nameless, were allowed to just 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, my thanks go to Pauw, Van Loggerenberg, Meiring, Engelke, Ravele, Dramat, Sibiya, Booysen and all the silent heroes. Thank you for the hope. I pray to be more worthy of it myself and for our country to be worthy of it, too.


1 Comment

  1. 1 nat cheiman 19 Jan
    All African countries steal billions of dollars given to them by the US.
    Trump is right. Africa is a sh*thole and its leaders are thieves


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