The South African Publishing Gate: Information Keepers and Seekers

Keywords: gatekeeping, Penguin Random House, state capture, NB Publishers, South African publishing, sense-making methodology


The phenomenon of state capture is creating political angst among South African citizens, and therefore the role the media is playing in revealing sensitive information about key personas, as well as evoking public interest and debate, warrants further investigation. This article explores the media’s role, but specifically trade book publishers’ roles as gatekeepers and information disseminators in a post-democratic South Africa. Case studies of the controversial socio-political exposés Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers: Those keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison (published by NB Publishers in 2017), and Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture (published by Penguin Random House in 2019), are used to illustrate that these publishers achieved both social and business objectives in publishing high-risk titles. NB Publishers and Penguin Random House managed to publish these titles in the right format (hard copy and electronic format), at the right time (before the provincial and national elections), at the right price, and were supported by strong publicity and marketing campaigns, which contributed to the success of these titles. Furthermore, publishers assisted in bridging the gaps in knowledge that may have existed among concerned South African citizens because of political uncertainty, by publishing timely and relevant books. This concept links with Dervin’s sense-making methodology regarding information behaviour, and the aim of this article is to highlight the synergy between gatekeeping and sense-making fuelled by trade publishers that take calculated risks in publishing controversial titles, amid a politically tense environment.

Author Biography

Samantha Miller, University of Pretoria