The International Publishers Association has protested "crude and ham-fisted attempts at censorship" of a new book by investigative journalist Jacques Pauw accusing the South African president, Jacob Zuma, of tax evasion and corruption.
Calling on the South African State Security Agency (SSA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to stop their attempts to withdraw The President’s Keepers (NB Publishers) from circulation, the IPA said in a statement it "unreservedly supports Mr Pauw’s right to publish this work of investigative journalism which exposes evidence of wide-scale financial mismanagement, fraud and corruption within South Africa’s government" and "praises the bravery of the publishers of Mr Pauw’s book, NB Publishers, in standing firm with their author".
The SSA attempted to have the book recalled on Friday afternoon (3rd November) by serving Pauw and Capetown-based NB Publishers with a cease-and-desist letter. SARS meanwhile made a statement on the same day that it would be seeking legal action on grounds it was "deeply concerned about the publication of confidential taxpayer information".
Attempts to silence Pauw have however had the opposite effect with the book reportedly flying off the shelves and selling out its initial 20,000 run by the weekend. According to news site Quartz, South Africa's largest bookseller Exclusive Books has vowed to keep selling the book. It further reported on Monday: "In South Africa, 5,000 books sold is considered a success, at a reported 15,000 new orders this week, Pauw’s book is a runaway success."
Kristenn Einarsson, chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee, said: "The actions of the SSA and SARS are clearly meant to harass and intimidate Mr Pauw and his publisher. This is the kind of behaviour reminiscent of the old apartheid regime in South Africa and the cruel irony cannot be lost on anyone observing these shameful actions.
"The IPA stands in solidarity with Mr Pauw, NB Publishers and the Publishers Association of South Africa. We call on the South African government to stop these crude and ham-fisted attempts at censorship and instead unequivocally support the freedom to publish and freedom of expression in the country."
Mpuka Radinku, the executive director of the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA), also condemned the threats and intimidation of authorities, further warning how such intolerance would appear to the wider international community.
"The South African authorities will do well to avoid being perceived as intolerant of different opinions and undermining the rights of authors and publishers to express themselves freely. This could be seen as a betrayal of the vision of a post-apartheid South Africa that the international community had welcomed. PASA calls upon the authorities in South Africa to support free speech by providing the necessary conditions for authors and publishers to produce critical and innovative knowledge that advances society and helps the country develop further," said Radink.
"We are appalled that the State Security Agency is trying to suppress freedom of expression through intimidation and threats of a cease-and-desist letter as a means to shield the government from embarrassing revelations."