BY BILLY SUTER
A FASCINATING local documentary focusing on the mountain of information gathered by tenacious journalists in their efforts to prove the allegation that South Africa was under State Capture during former president Jacob Zuma’s leadership, makes its debut on the Showmax pay channel tomorrow (Thursday, April 23) – and it’s one not to miss!
The documentary, which previewed in Cape Town in January and was shown on M-Net in March, is How to Steal a Country, made by Cape Town-born Rehad Desai. He is the talent behind the Emmy-winning documentary on the Marikana tragedy, Miners Shot Down; and the One World Human Rights Documentary Film Festival winner, Everything Must Fall, the definitive documentary on the #feesmustfall movement.
Desai, who returned to South Africa from exile in 1990 and now lives and works in Johannesburg, has a Masters degree in History and began making documentaries in 1998. He formed Uhuru Productions in 2003 and has been the driving force behind the company ever since. He is also the chairperson of the Human Rights Media Trust, formed in 2004.
The founder director of the Tri-Continental Human Rights Film Festival, Desai has conceived and produced more than 20 documentary films, many of which he has directed or co-directed. Six of these films have been feature-length documentaries, produced with significant international participation and have received critical acclaim and wide festival take-up.
In How to Steal a Country, Desai turns his eye to another defining moment in South Africa’s recent history: the rise and fall of the Gupta family.
Newspaper editor Ferial Haffajee says of the Guptas in the documentary: “They came here as traders. They sold shoes out of the boot of their car… And they left here as multi-billionaires.”
Desai’s take on how the Guptas accomplished that makes for compelling viewing, unfolding like a suspenseful detective story as it uncovers one bribery scandal after another, involving the top echelons of political power and several noted multinational corporations.
“Then one day the journalists received the smoking gun – a huge data leak that lays bare the entire modus operandi behind the capture of the South African State by private individuals with the help of politicians,” it is stated on the Uhuru Productions website.
“Thanks to their good friend Zuma, members of the Indian Gupta family were able to use the proceeds of an entire nation for their own gain, acquiring holdings in coal mines, media and IT companies, and even government positions. When a Judicial Commission of Inquiry is finally installed, Zuma also comes to testify. His defence: it’s all lies and fake news,” the site adds.
“In interviews, investigative journalists express their concerns about the global drift towards ever-increasing entanglement between business and government, and the polarisation it brings: presidents and multinationals live unassailably in their own bubble. As a journalist, all you can do is make life in the bubble a little less comfortable. Is there still room for justice in South Africa’s hard-won fledgling democracy?”
The documentary, featuring some hard-hitting commentary from former minister Barbara Hogan and politician Pravin Gordhan, is co-directed by Mark J Kaplan. It emerges as a great showcase for the dedicated journalists who, notwithstanding hurdles including harassment, ploughed on to do everything in their power to unravel truth.
Investigative journalist Thanduxolo Jika says in the 90-minute documentary: “It’s been almost 10 years of unabated looting. They estimate that it’s close to a trillion that the whole state capture debacle cost the country. A country that has got the highest unemployment rate, the highest rate of people who live in poverty. A trillion could have changed their lives.”
How to Steal a Country comes to Showmax on the eve of the Freedom Day long weekend and at a time when the Commission of Inquiry into alleged State Capture continues. Latest reports state that the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, has announced testimony expected to be heard during the Cornavirus lockdown period has been postponed until further notice.
“In due course, they will be notified of new dates when they will be required to appear before the commission,” a statement said. “Those persons whose dates of appearance before the commission fall outside the period of lockdown must note that, unless the commission notifies them otherwise, they are required to appear before the commission on the given dates.”
Watch the documentary trailer here: