Investigative journalist and author Jaques Pauw relates with deadpan hilarity the trials of the past few weeks during which he has reinvented himself as a restaurateur and guesthouse owner: “Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Things are still going wrong. The thing is, we know absolutely f-all about this business,” he says, sipping a Savannah.
We are sitting in the shady courtyard of Red Tin Roof, the restaurant in Riebeek Kasteel which Pauw and his partner Sam Rogers, also a prominent journalist, started in December.
|Interior of Red Tin Roof in Riebeek Kasteel|
Pauw does the kitchen and Rogers does “everything else”. “You have to try to separate the functions,” he says,“there’s obviously lots of friction and glaring at one another...”
Pauw is at a bit of a loss when we meet as he’s recently been kicked out of the kitchen. Last week the staff begged the visiting kitchen consultant to keep him out of the kitchen as much as possible as he makes them “so nervous”.
“The thing is, it’s very easy to watch Master Chef and think you’re Gordon Ramsay and that that’s how kitchens work. But it’s not. Kitchens are hot and quite horrible… Initially I thought ‘I am going to be the chef.’ Now I don’t want to be the chef, I just want to give guidance in the kitchen. I have a chef now, and what I do is storm into the kitchen from time to time to see how things are going, and I also cook things.
“For the past few days that I haven’t been into the kitchen, I didn’t know what to do with myself…
“Then there was the incident with the Spaniards.”
Eight Spaniards had walked in to the restaurant. One of them ordered a Kahlua Don Pedro. “I made it with ice cream and Kahlua. That’s how you make it. I have a new Kitchen Aid, so I klitsed it up and the waitress takes it to the Spaniard and he sends it back and says it is not thick enough. Anyway the waitress gives it to me and says it’s not thick enough. So I say, ‘tell him to fuck off’.
“His wife was standing right there… and heard me. Next, the eight Spaniards storm off. Sam was livid.”
Pauw said he apologised, shook the Spaniard’s hand and told him he didn’t mean it.
“So, now I am not supposed to go too close to the customers either!”
Opening a restaurant is a dream come true for Pauw, who says he has only two real interests besides journalism: food and gardening.
In fact, in between irritating the kitchen staff, he’s the one who has produced a massive artichoke lasagna, the chicken and bacon pies and a batch of lamb sosaties for tonight’s meal…
Glitches aside, the locals have fallen in love with Red Tin Roof.
“The people in this town have been so supportive. They come here and the children swim… and the food up to now has been fantastic. Every Sunday we have a big traditional roast, for example lamb shoulder that has been cooked for eight hours. The people pack this place for it. A lot are coming in from the city.”
So what’s on the menu today? There’s a Swartland ploughman’s with sweetcorn fritters, chutney and pickles; Red Tin Roof salad with smoked trout, beetroot, labneh, feta and flatbread; lamb sosaties with sweetcorn fritters and salad, homemade fettuccini with pesto and parmesan shavings; “vetkoek” beef burger with bacon jam, sauce, wedges and salad; and biltong pizza with onion marmalade and smoked feta.
It feels strange to be discussing malva pudding and pumpkin fritters with a man who uncovered Eugene de Kock’s secrets, who has covered the Rwandan genocide and who has tried to talk sense to the likes of Sierra Leone’s Foday Sankoh, head of the rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and who is responsible for the brutal maiming and murder of thousands of people.
Pauw, now in his mid-50s, has left his profession as one of Africa’s most prominent and award-winning journalists, documentary producers and directors.
Pauw and Rogers, moved to Riebeek Kasteel from Johannesburg about three years ago and have been living in and working from the small town since then.
|Veteran journos Jacques Pauw (centre) and Max du Prees with their partners Angela Tuck and Sam Rogers (left) at Red Tin Roof|
Max du Preez, a close friend, lives down the road with his family and he and Pauw meet at least three times a week to shoot the breeze.
“Lots of places in the Western Cape, like Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch have become extensions of Cape Town, but… once you come over the Bothmaskloof Pass, you are in real countryside.
It’s farmers and tractors driving through town. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly and the crime rate is low. I love that, after Johannesburg. I have always loved wide open expanses.”
He finds it fascinating that time seems to stand still in Riebeek Kasteel. “The local grape and wheat farmers are relatively wealthy. They fly the grapes out from here to Europe. You see the new bakkies every year… They live in a bubble and don’t seem too concerned about what goes on. Life just continues its slow wonderful pace in this town. I don’t think I’ve ever had a proper, serious discussion with any of the locals here. It seems to pass them by. We talk about wine, food, the weather and other people.
“But what is very depressing is how dire the situation of some of the other locals remains… and how many of them seem to think that this is their destiny, that they can’t improve their lives. It’s like there’s still this enormous battle to get people to break their shackles and to break free and make the world a better place.”
One day Pauw and Rogers drove past the guesthouse near where they were living and saw that it was on the market.
“We thought, hey, we can make a place like this work,” he says.
The place was old and neglected. “It had been a thriving guesthouse but in 2011 two guys from London bought it and decided to introduce fine dining to Riebeek Kasteel. They banned the locals from the pub, which was suicide.
“Then after a year they decided they didn’t want to live in the countryside anymore so the place stood empty for two or three years.”
Having bought the property, Rogers, who was head of e.tv’s crime and investigations documentary unit, resigned in September. Pauw left his job at the end of October. November was spent renovating the place.
“We opened on 6 December – and we were packed throughout December. Swamped. It was chaos. On Christmas Day we had 62 people here.
“For all of December we were collecting cash and putting it in little blikkies and hiding them. One day, we arrived at Standard Bank with all this money, and said we wanted to bank it. They said to us, ‘no no no, that’s not how you do it, you need a book.’ So it is only now, in January, that we have a kitchen consultant and a business consultant who are teaching us about systems. We have been through a helluva learning curve.”
|Red Tin Roof in Riebeek Kasteel|
The plumber and the electricians have been regular fixtures doing maintenance in the guesthouse and, as we talk, the pool guy is also at it.
The last story Pauw wrote as a journalist was about SARS. “Remember the story about [SARS group executive] Johann van Loggerenberg and lawyer Belinda Walter?” It was one he felt passionately about “as I think there is a dirty tricks campaign against SARS”.
When Pauw left in November, he decided to cut all journalistic ties. “People tried to phone me with tip-offs and information but I just ignored everything because I couldn’t do both. Obviously I miss the news. What I don’t miss is Nkandla, the Guptas and Ria Phiyega and I really don’t miss the State Security Agency.
“Quite simply, I’ve had enough. I couldn’t do another corruption story or another story about the incompetence of the police or about the State Security Agency that’s out of control, or about the Guptas getting yet another government contract or another cattle kraal at Nkandla or anything like that. I don’t miss any of it.
“You know what it is? As a journalist I never had any ambition to be anybody. I certainly never wanted to be an editor. I couldn’t think of anything worse.”
But, he says, you can’t completely cut off after 30 years of being a journalist.
“I am still very interested in what’s going on. We get the Cape Times and Die Burger, none of which I am particularly keen to read, and in the mornings I get and read Daily Maverick and on Friday mornings I read the Mail & Guardian. But on Sunday mornings we have to wait to get the Sunday newspapers.”
Pauw says one of the reasons he was so eager to get out of journalism was because of the state of the media.
“To give you an example, when I started the investigations unit at Media24 about five years ago, they told me to appoint whoever I wanted. At one point there were nine people. Now it’s gone. There’s not one single person left. They froze all the posts. And that’s Media24.
“Naspers is one of the richest media companies in the world. They don’t give a fuck about their papers. We all knew the demise of newspapers was coming. It’s just coming much quicker than we anticipated. Newspapers are dying. In the end there might be two Sunday newspapers left. Joburg and Cape Town might each have two daily papers if they are lucky. It is dire.”
Pauw remains fascinated by the outcome of the Zuma era. “I’ve always said we will probably survive Zuma, because the country is strong enough. We have strong civil institutions and the judiciary is still relatively strong, so we will survive Zuma, but what if we get another Zuma? If we do, I think we are fucked.”
One thing he won’t miss is writing about corruption. “One of the last stories I did before I left City Press was about Arthur Fraser, the former deputy director-general of the State Security Agency, who left the SSA in 2012.
“He ran an intelligence programme countrywide on which they spent about a billion rand over about four years. Nobody knows what the programme was for, as the intelligence was never fed back into the SSA’s main computer system. He had his own computer system at his house.
“He bought more than 400 luxury cars for this project and employed his family and friends. The money – a billion rand – is missing and there is still no indication of what it was for.
“The Hawks were investigating…
“Nothing is ever going to happen. Arthur Fraser is far too powerful. He is the guy who handed the spy tapes to Michael Hulley, Zuma’s lawyer. So the President owes him big time.
“I wrote the story in September, with a big headline about the missing one billion rand. Nobody was surprised or enraged or outraged by it. Nobody cared. Nobody is going to investigate.
“Arthur Fraser won’t ever be charged and a billion rand is gone. I mean, what more can I do? What do I do next?
“How much more must we write about Gupta, and Nkandla before anything is done? And absolutely nothing gets done. That’s why I left journalism.”
So what does 30-or-so years of journalism in South Africa and in Africa do to a person? “I don’t know,” says Pauw.
“My mother used to say how much I had changed. She’d say to me, ‘don’t go to these places in Africa because it is changing you, you are becoming a different person’. I don’t know if I became a different person. Of course I’m sure it has an impact.”
In Pauw’s book Dances With Devils, in the chapter on Rwanda, he describes a trip to the site of a massacre in a church in Nyarubuye during the genocide – and how, to this day, he finds it impossible to write about it.
“The words simply would not come. It is, ultimately, indescribable.”
He also relates how, in an interview with Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh, he spent more than an hour “trying to evoke some sense of responsibility or token of remorse
from him for the brutal maiming and murder of thousands of women, men and children” and afterwards feeling as though he had, indeed, danced with the devil.
“I remember when I came back from my first trip to Rwanda in 1994, I went to see a psychologist as I couldn’t sleep.
“He said to me, ‘so tell me about it,’ and I told him about it and he was shaking his head and whatever. And suddenly I realised the man had no fucking idea what I was talking about. So then I worked through it all myself.
“But I don’t want to make a big deal about it. It is also an adventure. Hey and it’s not all bad. You see beautiful places, beautiful people.
“And you know, there is one fantastic characteristic which Africans have – and that is their ability to start again. You go to places and there is fucking nothing left. You are sitting in a refugee camp and slowly they start to gather their few belongings, to pick up the pieces, to build a house and start again.
“It is amazing what Africans can do and it softens the blow. People stand up. Again and again.”
Meet the investigator
Born and educated in Pretoria, Jacques Pauw studied Political Science at the University of Pretoria. His first job as a journalist was with the Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport in 1984 before he moved to Huisgenoot as a features writer.
In 1988, he co-founded with Max du Preez the Afrikaans anti-apartheid newspaper Vrye Weekblad, the first and only anti-apartheid newspaper ever published in Afrikaans. At Vrye Weekblad, Pauw broke the so-called “apartheid death squad” story in November 1989. The newspaper exposed the existence of death squads within the South African Police and Defence Force. He continued to investigate death squads for the next six years.
In 1993, Pauw joined the SABC as a current affairs documentary producer and, in 1998, he co-founded Special Assignment, the SABC’s current affairs show, for which he produced numerous documentaries throughout Africa, including exposés on drug smuggling, the international trafficking of women and children, child labour, child soldiers and blood diamonds.
Pauw also produced documentaries on the civil conflicts in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Burundi, Zaire (today DRC), Algeria, Liberia, Rwanda, Angola and the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
He resigned in protest from Special Assignment in September 2007 after a series of political appointments at the national broadcaster.
As Head of Investigations at Media24 newspapers, he specialised in in-depth reporting on state corruption, the police and the intelligence services.
Pauw received a host of national and international awards, including being named twice as CNN’s African Journalist of the Year (2000 and 2001). His books include In the Heart of the Whore: The Story of South Africa’s Death Squad (1991); Into the Heart of Darkness: Confessions of Apartheid’s Assassins (1997); Dances with Devils: A Journalist’s Search for Truth (2006); Little Ice Cream Boy, his first novel, published by Penguin in 2009, and Rat Roads: One Man’s Incredible Journey (2011).
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