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By Hein Kaiser


Wordsmith back on the attack

Former print journo now chief of staff for Cape Town mayor.

You can leave journalism behind, but journalism will never leave you. James Styan, former journalist and now chief of staff for Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis, is evidence of that.

And while his news beat is now on a different kind of drum, Styan’s side hustle as a wordsmith has produced four best-selling non-fiction works thus far. And he is no stranger to controversy.

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Uncovering dirty secrets

With a reputation for journalistic depth during his print media career and his relentless pursuit to understand and expose the corporate world, Styan’s latest book, Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful, might kick some serious butt and flame a round of intense public discourse, because he unpicks some serious issues, again.

Following controversial works on Eskom and the Steinhoff scandal, Styan’s fifth non-fiction title digs into the mechanics of inequality and the covert influences shaping people’s lives.

In this book, Styan tackles 18 significant issues that impact people globally and within South Africa.

These range from corporate tax avoidance tricks to recycling and green energy risks, as well as looking into bread cartels and artificial intelligence.

The book includes revelations, such as the financial dealings of Formula One driver and popular culture folk hero Lewis Hamilton and the tax implications of King Charles’ inheritance from the late queen.

“I expose the curious case of Hamilton’s private jet and highlight just how much money King Charles inherited from his mother. And ask how much tax he paid,” said Styan.

He said that the idea for Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful was planted during the writing of his 2018 book on the Steinhoff collapse.

“There were so many questions that remained and I became fascinated by the games big multinational corporations play around the world,” Styan said.

These corporate manoeuvres create immense wealth for a select few while posing significant risks to the public.

“This book came about as a result of that curiosity into how the world really works.”

Styan is not a conspiracy theorist, he said: “I would not describe the book as conspiracy theories. “It is factual and highlights ongoing issues affecting people’s lives daily.”

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Insights and inspirations

For example, he raises the exorbitant cost of cancer chemotherapy in South Africa compared to India in one chapter and asks questions about accessibility and fairness in the health care system.

“Why do we, for example, pay R729 372 for a year of crucial cancer chemotherapy treatment in South Africa, while the same course costs R28 476 in India? “What can be done about it?” he asked.

In many ways, he wrote the book to unpack and understand the world order as it is today and, given that the present informs the future, it could help decipher tomorrow.

“To what extent do we really have control over our lives? Are other entities making decisions for us and our children that we are unaware of?

“Why is the world so unfair and so unequal and what can be done to address this?” Change is inevitable and we are in the middle of it.

“The world is going through a major reset and we have seen a lot of it in recent years. Just think of Brexit.

“There are some major conflicts ongoing with no foreseeable end in sight, like the situation in the Middle East, Sudan, and Ukraine. This may have large effects on the globe.

“The election in the US holds a risk, given the policy positions of the challenger, Donald Trump, for example, and the implications for South Africa and our trade arrangements with the US.

“One thing is for sure, we are in for interesting times,” he said. Before leaving full-time journalism.

Styan’s background in penmanship included reporting on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and working in parliament.

He said that his journalistic experiences have shaped his world view, providing different insights into the political and economic landscapes.

“Journalism exposed me to incredible people and led me to incredible places. Interviewing people like Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma provides you with special insights into how people think,” he shared.

When he is not working or writing, he enjoys life in Cape Town with his wife, two children and their dog.

His love for the outdoors and sports also provides a break from the demands of his craft.

Styan is the kind of man who, after a beer at the pub, heads home to reflect and continue to question life, the universe and everything in it.

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