Freedom still alive in captured SA

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The Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” seems to be more appropriate for South Africa than ever before. Between tough economic times (the country is officially in a recession) and the political upheaval that’s marked the past few months, many South Africans are bound to be craving a bit of mundane news.

Freedom still aliveThat is extremely unlikely, particularly since some local media have proved themselves worthy of Woodward and Bernstein. Like those two intrepid reporters, who were almost single-handedly responsible for creating awareness among the American public about the Nixon administration’s dishonest activities, a handful of South African publications are making sure that state capture can no longer be denied. And, like Watergate, Guptagate is evolving on an almost daily basis as more ugly truths are uncovered.

What started out as rumours and rumblings about the Gupta family having excessive influence over the country’s elite turned into an investigation by then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, culminating in the State of Capture Report. Now, investigative journalists from the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Daily Maverick's investigative unit Scorpio have uncovered explosive evidence that proves that the Guptas have indeed captured South Africa’s top decision-makers and politicians.

Under the label of #GuptaEmails, these intrepid reporters are revealing the machinations of the elite. Between 100 000 and 200 000 leaked emails are painting a picture of callous theft, blatant racism, and political intrigues perpetrated by the Guptas and their sycophants. Not only are they publishing the details of these plots, they have made the full trove of information available to all independent media in the country in order to allow them to do their own follow-up investigations.

What is emerging is a picture of a country at war with itself, and its government. Government is opting for denial as its default position – one which is being backed in every government mouthpiece the public has access to. Yet, in the age of instant information and social media, even those that do not want to hear the details of the stories so as to keep their respect for the government alive are being faced with the ugly truths that are being uncovered in the emails.

Human nature is such that those that support the ANC, regardless of what is being said or written, are continuing to believe that their party could not be responsible for selling the country out and that the #GuptaEmails are lies being told by the President’s political opponents. Those that were anti-Zuma to start off with have latched on to the news as proof positive that the ANC is rotten to the core. These factions are vying with those manufactured by the Guptas through an expansive PR programme orchestrated by UK PR company Bell Pottinger, which was responsible for increasing economic and racial tensions in the country.

And yet, the very divisions these issues have helped widen are creating a new kind of solidarity. South Africans from all walks of life are united in the faith that – whatever the outcome – we will survive. Many, who still believe in the ideal of the Rainbow Nation, are hoping that this is an opportunity for the country to have important conversations that will only make us stronger.

Whatever the outcome, the fact that South Africa’s press is still able to shine the light on corruption at this level, and on this scale, is proof that the country is still free. It is proof that South Africans will not take wrongdoing of this magnitude lying down. It is proof of the South African spirit that saw the overthrow of Apartheid, and proof of the need for individuals to stand up for the truth.

We can only hope that the #GuptaEmails will not also provide proof that the South Africans who spoke out will be treated like every other whistleblower in the world, and be forced into political exile, or worse, have to fear for their lives.

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Crown Publications, one of South Africa’s largest business-to-business publishing houses, came into existence in 1986. Since then, the company has grown from producing a single magazine, Electricity SA (renamed Electricity+Control), to publishing six monthly magazines, three quarterlies, and a number of engineering handbooks.