Burning books

IT is 10.15am and I have just returned from a frantic early morning mission to my nearest bookstore, Adams in Church Street, to see if I could get my hands on a copy of Vejay Ramlakan’s Mandela’s Last Years before Penguin-Random House’s Nazi-style book burning takes effect when they pull the book off the shelves.

I am an avid bibliophile and, as my long-suffering wife will attest, purchase far more books than I can afford and almost certainly far more than I’ll ever be able to read — at least in this lifetime.

Mandela’s Last Years was on my agenda, but as it is a recent release I thought I had time to get hold of other material first. I was, nevertheless, aware of some turmoil surrounding the book.

That is not unusual when it comes to prominent figures and disputed or contentious events, but was holding off for the time being for that reason.

Then, on eNews, we were informed, to my dismay and disgust, that the publishers, Penguin-Random House, had decided to pull the title from the shelves.

This, in my opinion, is nothing short of the kind of censorship that I thought South Africa had left behind in the apartheid era — the sort that the Nazis and Soviet Russia would have been proud of.

Former president Nelson Mandela would not be the first much-respected, even revered, public figure whose story has turned out not to be completely perfect after all — ask the families of Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and even U.S. President Donald Trump.

There have been books written on all three, and there are many further examples that are uncomplimentary or disputed, but to my knowledge they haven’t been effectively banned, and in a purported democracy too.

Having perused the article in a newspaper confirming this disturbing move, there is talk of the upset Mandela family and Graça Machel considering legal action.

That’s fine. If they think they have a case, go ahead — that is their democratic right too.

Mine is to read what I choose without the Mandelas or Penguin-Random House presuming to dictate otherwise.

In my opinion, this is a very disturbing development.

Will there be no possibility in the future of a publisher accepting for publication a title that isn’t approved by the late president’s family?

That would, to say the least, be unfortunate.

I have also recently purchased a book by D. Cruywagen titled
Spiritual Mandela
, on Mandela’s walk with faith.

This title was evidently approved, but then I also have Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which many people would like to see banned, along with Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo (I’m also an avid Tintin fanatic).

Some would say that buying and reading the former makes me a
Nazi and the latter a racist. I don’t believe so.

In both these cases, the relevant publishers chose to defend the necessity of having material from all perspectives in the public domain to allow readers to make their own informed decisions.

What a pity that Penguin-Random House couldn’t have done likewise in this instance.

Anyway, I have my copy of Mandela’s Last Years, but it will still be a pity if they burn the rest.

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