The controversial book The Lost Boys of Bird Island, in which claims of paedophilia are made against apartheid-era ministers, has been withdrawn by its publishers.
According to the book - which was co-written by Chris Steyn and Mark Minnie, who took his own life in August 2018 - three former National Party ministers, including strongman Magnus Malan and John Wiley, are named as central figures in a paedophilia ring that operated during apartheid.
Malan and Wiley are deceased.
The third former minister was not named in the book, but former finance minister Barend du Plessis publicly stated that he believed he was being implicated.
Tafelberg, a subsiduary of NB Publishers, which published the book, said in a statement that it had withdrawn unsold copies of both the Afrikaans and English editions of the book from bookshops, and that the e-book had been removed from online e-trade platforms.
'Unsold copies withdrawn'
"In the book The Lost Boys of Bird Island and its translated version, Die seuns van Bird Island, statements are made which may suggest that Mr Barend du Plessis, though not mentioned by name, might have been involved in the sexual abuse of underaged boys.
"While attempts were made to conceal his identity, NB Publishers accepts that the books contain sufficient information to identify Mr Du Plessis as an involved party.
"The contested statements could not be verified independently. NB Publishers unreservedly apologises for the publication of these allegations to the extent that they implicate Mr Du Plessis, and for the attendant infringement of his dignity and impairment of his reputation, as well as the emotional distress this caused him and his family.
"In order to limit further distribution of the book, NB Publishers has withdrawn unsold copies of both the Afrikaans and English editions of the book from bookshops and the e-book has been removed from online e-trade platforms.
"This apology is limited to Mr Du Plessis and does not extend to any other person identified in the book as having played a role in the events portrayed in the book. NB Publishers shall defend any attempt at discrediting the book and its contents in the appropriate forum."
'Web of lies'
A statement issued on Tuesday by Du Plessis' legal representatives, Johan Victor Attorneys, described the book as a "web of lies". It added that Du Plessis had hired a private investigator who found a "lack of proper and substantive research by the authors and the publisher".
"The inescapable fact, is that 24 years since the first reports, featuring the same sleazy allegations appeared in some of Media24's most prominent publications, and 32 years since the alleged acts would have occurred, there has been no evidence whatsoever from any of many investigations, that implicates any of the ministers in the despicable crimes alleged in the book," the statement read.
In April last year, Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport apologised for publishing accusations of sexual assault made against the National Party ministers in the controversial book.
Following the publication of the book, Rapport's journalists independently followed up on several of the accusations made in the book, it wrote.
"But none of the damaging accusations could be independently verified and our reporters could find no concrete evidence thereof," it said.
Since publication, investigations into the authenticity of the claims were reportedly conducted by private investigator, Wouter de Swardt, on behalf of the Human Rights Commission; Jacques Pauw, an investigative journalist at Vrye Weekblad and best-selling author; and Derek Watts of M-Net's Carte Blanche.
In addition, in an email to publisher Maryna Lamprecht of Tafelberg, sent two weeks before his suicide and four days before the book's publication, Minnie wrote: "We have no concrete evidence that any of the three ministers sexually assaulted any of the victims [mentioned in the book]."
In September 2018, News24 carried an exclusive, scathing review of the book by Pauw.
Pauw wrote: "It is ultimately a tragedy that Minnie botched the Bird Island investigation. The lost boys deserved better but as a result, there are virtually no detail of the events that took place."
The book was no longer available on online platforms on Tuesday. The book was also not listed on NB Uitgewers' website.
Here is Johan Victor Attorneys' full statement: