- General

Heist: South African Epidemic

Book Review:

Title: Heist

Author: Anneliese Burgess

Publisher: Penguin Books

During a Political Science class debate that I was part of some years ago about whether or not journalists should be conveyor belt for politicians, a student said: “Journalists must always open a can of worms and never agree to be used for political ends.” Another replied: “Why should journalists always open a can of worms when there’s can of Coke.” Laughter ensued. (Witness/Echo, 2002, article: in Defence of Journalists).

I am quoting myself here to underscore a point about the centrality of good journalism in a democracy. Journalists are not do-gooders but work for the public good. Good journalism by its nature must make us uncomfortable. It must force us to question the sincerity of those charged with public power and resources. It must as it were open a can of worms or if you like expose the belly of the beast. And, this dear reader is what Anneliese Burgess does in her long form journalism (book) aptly titled Heist. She goes into the heart of the beast – laying bare the indifference and incompetence of the SA authorities (NPA, SAPS and Banks). She speaks to the heistus (specialists in cash-in-transit heists), the police, prosecutors, researchers, runners and kingpins. She gives us a full bodied picture of the texture of the epidemic of the cash-in-transit heists.

The book affirms that not all journalists have agendas that are inimical to the ideals of the founding ethos of the craft of journalism. The book does offend sensitive readers yet it affirms our common humanity, i.e. our ability to show empathy for the other. The picture she paints with her words is chilling and nerve-racking to say the least yet she offers hope that if we do certain things right, we can arrest the epidemic. This book is an epic success in all respects (quality research, expert interviews, excellent writing and storytelling).

Anneliese Burgess has done for crime reporting and justice what Jacques Pauw (The President’s Keepers) did for investigative journalism, political reporting and state capture sufferers.

Reading through the book, you can immediately see the fruits of good publishing company that has come to be associated with the Penguin Books. The book is superbly put together (in terms of the structuring of chapters), excellently copy edited, brilliant type setting, and over the top proofreading. It went through the hands of her peers in the investigative journalism field and landed comfortably in the lap of the publisher extraordinaire, Marlene Fryer.

Finally, no matter your political views, just remember, it’s smelly in the corridors of power, hence the need for good journalists to constantly fight to open the lid, and let the worms out. I am now going to open my can of Coke and celebrate this triumph in journalism.