Opinionista Steven Boykey Sidley 1 June 2017

#GuptaLeaks: The day our world tilted

I woke to the news of #GuptaLeaks on Thursday morning, and felt the world tilt. It is not as though any even partially informed citizen doesn’t strongly smell the odour of theft and authoritarian consolidation of power that is our government. But smoking guns are difficult to come by in a paranoid state. And now we have an entire smoking artillery battalion – large, hot, co-ordinated and without camouflage.

The deep state is laid bare now. Even the first few articles, the kickbacks, the Gupta-approvals of ministerial recruitment, the private flights with money launderers, the second homes – these look like an early salvo. A couple of hundred thousand of unique e-mails and a trove of related documents is kryptonite for those who have broken the law and feathered their considerable nests. There will be explosions aplenty.

But there will also be heads that will roll. Metaphorically and literally. And they may be the wrong ones. Any expectation that the guilty will hide their faces and head for the hills is naive. The Zuma cabal is going to hit back. A couple of pro-Zuma thugs protesting threateningly outside the home of a straying politician (as happened last week) is going to seem like quaint vaudeville. Predictions are hard to make, but there are those in this deep state with so much to lose that I should not be surprised if the grinding mechanisms of tyranny raise their heads – raids, threats, anonymous assault, false charges, false imprisonment and then beyond that, the worst of things. The rich and powerful have the blind loyalty of the deeply unsavoury, people for whom violence is simply not a problem.

Those involved in engineering this exposé would know this, of course. From the whistle-blowers (clearly one or more people deep within the security apparatus) to the journalists and their media homes who have set this information free – these people would surely know the danger that they face. This is not your pavement protest here. These are the big leagues. I fear the worst. It goes without saying – there are heroes among us now (the publicly known names bear no repeating; it is enough that they will bear the wrath of the guilty). Truth is being spoken to power and there will be consequences.

The unmasked will certainly claim false news, manufactured e-mails and the like. How such a defence in the face of 200,000 of them will stand up is difficult to understand. This exposé will be impossible to ignore, the only danger being that the daily tsunami of secrets will simply dull everyone into a state of boredom. Outrage is, after all, not in endless supply.

Yale historian Timothy Snyder recently published a slim volume entitled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. It considers the ease in which tyranny can be borne, and how it can be resisted. The book was written with the Trump administration looming silent in its pages. But its lessons for us are apposite.

Snyder makes a plea in his book. Democracy is not a given. Not even in the US, long drunk on the smug certainties of its own exceptionalism. But in South Africa we believe that the Constitution will protect us. We believe that a mere 20 years into democracy, its promise remains intact. We believe that cooler heads will prevail. We believe that our judiciary will remain independent. And there are now 200,000 e-mails and documents that will tear at the fabric of what we believe for all time.

Things, as they say, are about to get real. DM

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