SO, an intelligence agency link connects the two directors of a little-known company (see our front page lead) that brings a multibillion-rand 30-year Lonmin mining operation to a halt with an "exploration" licence awarded them by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). A journalist is roughly arrested at his place of work by eight plain-clothes cops with no warrant and driven hundreds of kilometres away and deprived of sleep while being questioned on his political affiliations by a former special branch cop in the early hours of the morning. The leader of the South African Communist Party, a Cabinet minister, calls the media the single biggest threat to democracy - not corruption, not crime, not poverty, but newspapers - and his sensitive deputy backs him up. Neither has had anything to say about the journalist.

It must be SA 2010. After, not before. Fifa's gone, the visitors have gone, the world's press has gone. The President also seems to be missing. The free-for-all, the looting and the silencing, has begun.

The incursion against Lonmin, emerging so soon after a similar one on Kumba/Mittal, probably spells the beginning of the end of major international mining investment in S A , no matter how honourable the intentions of the raiders.

It may be too late to fix. Kumba/Mittal might have been an accident. Twice makes it much more. Is any mining investment here safe? Why take the risk, investors will ask. The idiots who press for nationalisation or who pooh-pooh the centrality of foreign investment in SA's future success are winning.

The money it takes to open a major mine is not available in SA.

And there's no better example of what happens when you pass mining licences to people who don't know what they are doing than what has happened at the Aurora mine near Joburg since Jacob Zuma's nephew took it over - the mine doesn't function, workers don't get paid and now there's an environmental disaster in the making. There's some finance being raised in Switzerland - good, but you can bet the terms will be tough. No one lends cheap money to a beginner.

Is that where all SA's mining investment is headed? Sure, the big names already here will keep their operations going. But serious new capacity? I think you can forget it unless the government quickly does something to make big investors more secure.

Alas, while the DMR is busy despoiling our reputation as an investment destination, the Presidency (or the absence of it) is busy doing the same to our reputation as a leading democracy. I doubt the Protection of Information Bill in its current form has any equivalent in any democracy anywhere in the world. The attempt to create a media tribunal will nail the lid to the coffin of whatever reputation the information bill leaves behind.

Freedom of speech is just that. It is a nuisance and open to abuse. You have to be mature to live with it. But once you qualify it - even a little bit - it simply no longer exists. There was no freedom of speech under apartheid and there soon won't be under the African National Congress (ANC).

Youngsters who support the ANC may not appreciate what it was like to live in a censored society. But their leaders do. They should be standing up now to defend free speech and the free flow of information, warts and all. That is the path to growth and success as a nation. Corruption and secrecy are the road to ruin.

As the hits on Lonmin's and Kumba's mining rights show, there are dark clouds on our horizon. Mining rights in SA are already, it is said overseas, about as secure as they are in the Congo, where officials hand out licences like confetti. An exaggeration perhaps, but does anyone in the ANC understand the implications of being whispered in the same breath as that country?

Jackie Selebi's trial showed it is often hard to smell the rot when you're at the centre of it. Hell, it must be thrilling for the president to see his nephew doing so well, or to see ANC loyalists get into mining, or those nice people giving him a newspaper get an iron-ore prospecting right in return.

But the damage. Oh, the damage! If I were the Reserve Bank governor buying dollars to lower the rand I'd keep buying. One day we'll really need them.