The greed of politicians and negligent media reporting contributed to state capture in South Africa, investigative journalist and author Jacques Pauw said on the eve of the access to information day celebrations in Windhoek last week.
Pauw, who authored South Africa's best-seller 'The President's Keepers' - a book that exposed and led to the downfall of former South African president Jacob Zuma and his cronies - said this while addressing a gala dinner last week.
The dinner, hosted by the Editors Forum of Namibia under the theme 'Celebrating Media Freedom and Honouring Investigative Journalism in Southern Africa', aimed to celebrate what is also known as the International day of the universal access to information.
Capturing the audience with his humour as he told the story behind his book, Pauw spoke of how state capture brought the best and the worst in the journalism sector. He said this as some journalists paved the path for state capture via fraudulent media reports.
"When you think about state capture, you do not just talk about Zuma, the Guptas as well as officials at state-owned enterprises. People from across the board were involved. There were lawyers, chartered accountants and journalists. In the case of SARS, journalists played a key role in the removal of its top structure," he said.
The Sunday Times, one of South Africa's biggest and most credible newspapers, published over 30 articles over a year based on fake documents, thus paving the way for the removal of the SARS top structure who were busy with investigations into Zuma and his cronies, he added.
The newspaper, having won awards and accolades for their reports, retracted its publications in 2016, describing them as lies. But the damage was already done, and investigations into Zuma and the Guptas were stopped, while SARS went on to lose over billions of rands in revenue collection.
"Can you imagine how much money could have been saved had SARS officials been allowed to continue their investigations?" asked Pauw.
He added that the Sunday Times reports were agenda-driven, and published often without comments from the accused or others. "It was absolute disgusting journalism".
On the sidelines of the breakfast meeting on Friday, where talks in celebration of access to information day were held at a Windhoek restaurant, Pauw said no one had challenged the Sunday Times reports as they had documents and sources.
He stressed that when it comes to stories, one must not just rely on documents, or one source, and think that the information is credible when documents can be manufactured in this day and age.
"A source is someone who has an axe to grind. They come to you with information. You must not get too close to a source, be wary of documents, and do not be emotionally involved or be friends with a source," he advised.
His golden rule, Pauw said, has always been to never trust politicians, and that one should keep a distance, then politicians will respect journalists more.
"Never like them too much, never believe what they say," he reiterated.
When asked by one of the members of the audience, citizen Nahas Angula, on what leads to state capture, Pauw said greed is the biggest threat, and constitutional loopholes, like in the case of South Africa.
He said laws were created with Nelson Mandela in mind as president, and these laws gave too much power to one leader, which Zuma later exploited.
On the issue of civil society's challenges of holding power to account but being held down due to sponsors and funders, Carina Conradie, South Africa's Right to Know campaign spokesperson, said funders must not keep the people they are funding from doing their work.
She added that civil society must also practise transparency, and publish their lists of funders so that they can lead by example.
Access to information day celebrations were birthed at a Unesco general conference, and it was inaugurated in 2015 with its first celebration taking place internationally in 2016.