Review: How to Steal a Country is a devastating reminder of greed, complicity and outright theft

2020-01-24 00:33

The documentary film, How to Steal a Country has arrived.

Its premiere showing was in the new Avalon CineCentre in the glitzy Grand West complex in Cape Town on Monday.

It comes from the same Uhuru Productions stable that created the multi-award winning Marikana massacre documentary, Miners Shot Down, and is likely to cause as much interest – and uproar.

But it was a singular historical moment when director Rehad Desai and co-director Mark Kaplan introduced this celebration of whistle-blowers and investigative journalism.

The film premiered as part of the return of the Avalon cinema to Cape Town.

On hand was AB Moosa Jnr, third generation head of one of the country’s oldest – and certainly most persecuted – cinema groups.

The Avalon last existed in District Six in Cape Town and, like 17 of the 18 non-racial Avalon cinemas in the country, fell foul of the Group Areas and Separate Amenities Acts of the apartheid state.

The Moosa family also supported the anti-racist resistance and when Barney Desai, father of Rehad, was on the run from the security police, it was AB Moosa’s grandfather who smuggled him aboard a ship bound for England and exile.

The two sons came together last week to celebrate both the return of the Avalon to Cape Town and the latest offering from Desai and his team.

The 90-minute documentary on the perhaps trillion rand plunder of the country was next shown in the CineCentre at Killarney Mall, Johanneburg, to an audience invited by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

It will then go on to screen at the Johannesburg Bioscope from February, with several international screenings planned.

This is a devastating reminder of greed, complicity and the outright theft of a nation’s resources.

It also underlines the vulgar extravagance of the Gupta family and how they arguably over-reached themselves with their now notorious Waterkloof airbase landing.

Revisiting, on film, the events of recent years it seems incredible the ease with which this family from Uttar Pradesh so quickly dominated a state apparently ripe for wholesale corruption.

One question sure to be asked is why this documentary has been produced when the Zondo commission into allegations of state capture is still underway.

This, in terms of timing, repeats what Desai and Uhuru did with Miners Shot Down.

And, it seems, with much the same intention.

In the first place, no-one seems sure for how much longer the Zondo commission will go on.

It was the same case with the Farlam inquiry into the Marikana massacre.

Desai points out that, as in the case of Farlam, so with Zondo, “there is already enough information in the public domain; enough for investigations and prosecutions, but so far there have been none”.

He makes it clear that the intention of the film is to increase public awareness of “the heist of the South African economy”, and also to “put pressure on the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and on the ANC to clean itself up”.

Some of the hardest-hitting comments in the film come from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and will no doubt cause further apoplexy among his detractors.

And former minister Barbara Hogan also pulls no punches, but it is investigative journalism that has greatest – and deserved – prominence although, as both Kaplan and Desai admit: “It is the whistle-blowers who are the real, and largely unsung, heroes.”

Without them – and at least one has died in questionable circumstances – the details of this sordid mass of corruption may never have come to light.

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March 29 2020