Wednesday, August 29, 2018

How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay: An Inside Account Paperback – October 23, 2017 by Crispian Olver ( Jonathan Ball Publishers)

This wonderfully researched  book by Chippy Olver is well worth reading. I , personally. could not put it down. The book tells a story of corruption and betrayal of country, party and values at many levels. First it is a personal account of his fight to clean up Port Elizabeth as part of a team deployed by Pravin Gordhan and his subsequent attempts to run an election for a party corrupted by corruption recounted against the backdrop of trying to remain moral in an amoral world. At another level it is, as the title suggests, an idiots guide of how to corrupt a city. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, at least for me, is its role as a template for state capture across South Africa and the insiders glimpse it gives into just how bad the ANC has become and how deep the rot goes. Chippy does not come out of this account unscathed. He was sullied by the experience and he does not dodge this fact. It took enormous courage not to mention character to write this book. Perhaps its most sobering message is how easily the best of us are corrupted when we are denied the luxury of making decent choices. A modern day account of a journey into the heart of darkness.

How to Steal a City is an insider account of this intervention, which lays bare how the administration was entirely captured and bled dry by a criminal syndicate, how factional politics within the ruling party abetted that corruption, and how a comprehensive clean-up was eventually conducted.

It is written as a gripping real-life thriller, taking the reader deeper and deeper into the rotten heart of the city. As a former senior government official and local government "fixer," Crispian Olver was no stranger to dealing with dodgy politicians and broken organisations. Yet what he found was graft that went far beyond the dodgy contracts, blatant conflicts of interest and garden-variety kickbacks he had seen before. It had evolved into a web far more sophisticated and deep rooted than he had ever imagined, involving mazes of shell companies, assassinations, criminal syndicates, and compromised local politicians. The metro was effectively controlled by a criminal network, closely allied to a dominant local ANC faction. What he found was complete state capture--a microcosm of what has been happening in South Africa's national government.

But there was a personal price to pay. Intense political pressure and threats to his personal safety took a toll on his mental and physical health. He had to have a full-time bodyguard, and never maintained a regular routine. He eventually lost much of his political cover. Olver ultimately had to flee the city as the forces stacked against him started to wreak their revenge.

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