How to Steal a Country (2019)

  • 1h 33m
  • Rehad Desai
  • South Africa
  • 2019


“A devastating exposure of greed, complicity and the outright theft of a nation’s resources.”

You are a flea market shoe salesmen in Uttar Pradesh. You want to become extremely rich, and influential with it. But how? And where?

Find a country with immense natural resources, but with huge social and political turmoil, preferably with a corrupt, and gullible, president. Immigrate, ingratiate yourselves with aforesaid president, and take it from there.

South Africa.

One day, two young men working in an IT company find the evidence that lays bare the entire modus operandi behind the trillion-rand plunder of the South African state by these private individuals and the politicians in their pockets.

“It is the whistle-blowers
who are the real,
and largely unsung, heroes.”

— Filmmakers Kaplan and Desai

Three brothers ensconce themselves with President Jacob Zuma, allowing them within 10 years of arriving from India to become multi-millionaires, primarily through lucrative state contracts. They then buy a uranium mine, attracting the attention of British and US intelligence agencies.

Next, the finance minister is fired, because of his refusal to sign an irregular nuclear deal with Russia. Several leading political figures go public, describing how the Guptas are directing critical government affairs. There’s a flurry of fake news, dodgy intelligence reports and attacks on journalists, in defence of ‘radical economic transformation’.

Aspects of this fake news campaign form part of the story of another Doc Edge 2020 selection, Diana Neille and Richard Poplak’s Influence.

When a second ‘uncooperative’ finance minister is fired, his speech on the steps of the Treasury is the first time a senior member of the governing African National Congress appeals to the public to defend South Africa’s hard won democracy.

Then come the #GuptaLeaks, a trove of over 300,000 emails and documents laying bare the modus operandi of the Guptas and their associates, more dangerous than anyone could have imagined.

As both Kaplan and Desai admit: “It is the whistle-blowers who are the real, and largely unsung, heroes.” Without them — and at least one has died in questionable circumstances — the details of this sordid mass of corruption may never have come to light.

Miners Shot Down, Rehad Desai’s earlier film, won the Best International Documentary Feature prize at Doc Edge 2016.

Read Steve Newall’s picks for the best dozen Doc Edge 2020 films on

Previous festival selections include:
IDFA 2019


Rehad Desai



Bonus Content

Julie Moffett Interviews Rehad Desai

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