Journalist, author and radio presenter Redi Tlhabi has written a fuming, no-holds-barred letter to Tafelberg Publishers for quoting her out of context and without her permission.
“I AM APPALLED! HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU, TAFELBERG!!!” Tlhabi starts off the strongly worded letter.
At issue is the use of a quote by Tlhabi on the back sleeve of the book Truth, Lies and Alibis: The Winnie Mandela Story by Fred Bridgland.
Tlhabi is quoted on the book cover as follows: “‘Winnie was a woman of her times, there was a war and she too was a soldier.’ – Redi Tlhabi, Sunday Times.”
But the quote was taken from a separate column Tlhabi had written about Madikizela-Mandela, and had nothing to do with the book. The impression created, according to Tlhabi, is that she endorsed the book, which was not the case at all.
“You have been conniving and dishonest in appropriating a sentence from an entire article and placing it as a shout-out for a book that YOU MUST HAVE KNOWN, was the anti-thesis of what I believe and the complexity that I embrace when analysing historical figures,” Tlhabi wrote to the publishers.
Tlhabi told News24 on Tuesday that she was never approached by Tafelberg for permission to use the quote, despite the publisher having ample access to her.
“I have been particularly generous to Tafelberg throughout my career. I’ve moderated a lot of their [book] launches, I have travelled to different cities… They should have gone out of their way to find me.”
Tlhabi said the fact that the book was about Madikizela-Mandela made the issue even more problematic. “She was a very complex person and a polarising figure in many respects. There is no way you can read about Winnie without the required complexity and sensitivity.
‘This was deliberate’
“I think Tafelberg knew that. There’s no way this was just an oversight. This was deliberate. They wanted to give the book a veneer of respectability,” Tlhabi told News24.
Tlhabi said she had not been aware of the quote until a week ago, but didn’t take it seriously initially because she hadn’t seen it and didn’t realise the extent of endorsement implied by it.
After a call from her publisher and after receiving countless WhatsApps and messages from people who were “horrified and mortified” that she had “endorsed” the book, Tlhabi realised how extensive the damage was.
“That tells me that the average, intelligent reader sees a ‘shout-out’ as an endorsement.
“After I read it properly a few days ago, I thought I should calm down, let me challenge myself, let me be critical of myself and generous to the writer. But with every passing day, I realised this is wrong.”
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Tlhabi then wrote her response, which was widely circulated on social media on Tuesday.
“I am not the only victim of your nefarious, dishonest tactic. Prominent writers and commentators like Sisonke Msimang, Aubrey Matshiqi and Palesa Morudu have been used by you in this most unprofessional and unkind manner. Why did you do it?” she wrote.
Msimang and Morudu were also unhappy about being quoted on the book cover. Single lines were taken from articles they had written for Mail & Guardian and Business Day, respectively.
“It has come to my attention that a new book about #WinnieMandela written by an apartheid apologist has a blurb on the back taken from an article I wrote in the M&G. This is a sneaky marketing effort and I do not endorse the book. I will be writing to the publishers formally,” Msimang wrote on Twitter.
Morudo tweeted: “I have also checked with @BDliveSA to see if anyone gave Tafelberg Publishers any permission to use a quote from my column as a ‘shout-out’ for this book. I haven’t read the book. I am horrified that a quote from my Winnie column is used as a ‘shout-out’.”
Tafelberg Publishers issued an apology for “the perception that has been created”.
“The intention of the quotations on the back cover of Truth, Lies and Alibis is to show that there is a multiplicity of views of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela – and Fred Bridgland’s book is one of them. They don’t endorse the book or author in any way but are about Madikizela-Mandela as a person and historical figure. The sources – opinion pieces in Sunday Times, Business Day and the M&G – are clearly referenced,” the publisher tweeted.
But Tlhlabi said the apology was insincere. “There is no insight and understanding of what has been done. They apologise for the ‘perception’ that has been created.
“One thing I am quite sensitive about is people insulting my intelligence. When you have done something wrong, just say sorry.
“This [apology] implies that we are not thinkers and that we’re not clever enough to see through that façade. We’re not overreacting here.”
Rather, the publisher should apologise for not approaching the columnists and for using their words out of context.
“Saying sorry for the ‘perception’ created makes us the problem, as if we were the ones who misunderstood. That’s just rubbish.”
Tlhabi said, ideally, she would like to have her quote removed from the book, but the bigger issue was not being consulted about it.
“I would like [the quote] removed. There are ways of getting our views without being so underhanded.”
‘Quotes will be removed’
In a statement on Tuesday, Tafelberg Publishers’ Gill Moodie said: “Tafelberg apologises unreservedly for causing distress with the quotations on the back cover of the recently released Truth, Lies and Alibis.
“We are in the process of making amends and are contacting the affected journalists.
“We are removing the quotations from the cover for a new jacket for the book, and will replace it on the shelves with the rejacketed books wherever possible. The quotations will also be removed from online descriptions of the book.”