We now know that political analyst and author Prince Mashele lied to the public when he said his book on Herman Mashaba was an unauthorised, objective and independently conceived critique of the ActionSA leader and his political tradition.
In fact, Mashaba funded the book, The Outsider: The Unauthorised Biography of Herman Mashaba, to the tune of R12.5 million. An unauthorised book is one that is written without the subject's permission or approval.
But we would not have known about the funding side had Mashele not duped his collaborator on the book, researcher and analyst Brutus Malada.
After the publication of the book, Malada was furious that his role as a researcher had not been acknowledged in the final product.
Malada acknowledged the fact that he had been paid R3.2 million over three years for his role as researcher. He was not unhappy with the money. In fact, when I engaged with him on my social media space on Sunday, he said: “Presidential projects are expensive.”
To go back to the book. By the time the book came out last month, Malada and Mashele had fallen out as friends and had not spoken to each other since 2022.
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Malada explained that in 2018, when he was still working for the City of Johannesburg, he was approached by his then-bosom buddy Mashele about writing a book on Mashaba. Malada took to the idea with alacrity and said he would be happy to work with Mashele on the book.
And so the work began. However, in 2022, when the project was far advanced, Malada’s wife, Mpho Phalatse, the former mayor of Johannesburg, expressed her misgivings about the funding aspect of the project. This happened at a social event at Mashele’s home.
Malada said the day after the social gathering at Mashele’s house, the latter sent him a message saying Malada should not have shared the information about funding with his wife. He told the Sunday Times at the weekend:
In the letter to Jonathan Ball Publishers, Malada asked them to recall the book and make the necessary corrections - including acknowledging him as a researcher, and the fact that the book was actually authorised.
Malada said he had a moral and ethical obligation to tell the South African public that they had been misled by Mashele who sold the book off as an unauthorised biography.
He wrote in part: “Firstly, it is the lack of acknowledgement of my substantive role in the writing of the book. Secondly, it is whether this book qualifies to be an ‘unauthorised’ biography as it purports to be. The last, yet not least important, is lack of disclosures about the relationship between the author and the subject.”
An unauthorised biography is supposed to be objective in that it is not written with the permission of the subject. Mashele not only obtained permission from Mashaba, but he also got generous funding.
Social media was on Sunday on fire, with writers and other people familiar with the publishing industry commenting on the book, the fallout and the money involved.
Even in South Africa, many prominent figures have funded the writing of their own life stories. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as authorised books are not passed off as unauthorised.
Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, for example, was written with his permission, and the person who did the actual writing was Richard Stengel, an American journalist. He was paid to do the writing. He, therefore, would not have been objective in writing the story. He was embedded.
It is clear that through this book, Mashaba is throwing his early salvos in the build-up for the war of attrition between different political parties in the 2024 elections.
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That is why it is important that the public be alerted to the fact that the writing and the research that went into the book have been paid for by Mashaba, the subject. Failure to declare is dishonest and unethical.
Some commentators have raised the issue of the money that the writers were paid - which is far more generous than what local writers get paid to write books.
Well, for me, that is neither here nor there. In fact, as a professional writer, I am happy that Mashele and Malada charged Mashaba without fear, expressing confidence in their abilities as writers.
The two writers have set a marvellous precedent for future collaborations between people who want books written about them, and the authors capable and willing to deliver those.
*Fred Khumalo, who is the editor of City Press Voices, is the author of Heart of a Strong Woman, the authorised life story of Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema, former wife to theatre legend Mbongeni Ngema.