A couple of years into Jacob Zuma’s presidency historian Jacob Dlamini said something to me that stuck in my mind. “This president is a disaster for historians,” he remarked. “He runs the country on his cellphone, not through institutions. After he has come and gone, he will have left no records.” I don’t think Dlamini or I — or anyone else, for that matter — had an inkling at the time just how allergic to record-keeping Zuma was. It is not just that he had little taste for running the country through the formal mechanisms in which minutes are kept and procedures followed. He actually wanted to destroy some of the vital machinery that made the government work. And in some spheres, this entailed disabling the capacity of the state to record what was happening in the society around it. The most glaring example comes to us in the testimony presented to the Nugent commission on the state of the SA Revenue Service (Sars). Zuma’s henchman, Tom Moyane, wilfully set out to erode the capacit...

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