"Withdrawal of Mandela book a form of censorship"

Mandela’s Last Years, written by retired military doctor Vejay Ramlakan who headed up Madiba's medical team during his last years, caused much outcry when it was published recently.

Mandela family members were angry, saying the author had not been granted permission to publish and it was a breach of medical ethics and patient doctor confidentiality. The doctor insisted he had been granted permission by members of the family.

Penguin Random House Publishers withdrew the book in July and called for media review copies to be returned.

She says there are two parts that relate to why this action could be viewed as censorship.

The first aspect is that there was no legal reason to withdraw the book.

It's partly a kind of self-censorship on the part of the publisher. They did not have to withdraw the book. There was no real legal basis for them to do so. And so by withdrawing it, they have censored themselves.

Beth le Roux, Publishing professor, University of Pretoria

The second aspect is the pressure from an influential family.

This was simply pressure. And when you have an influential family using that influence and bringing that to bear on somebody to suppress the circulation of information, that is a form of censorship as well.

Beth le Roux, Publishing professor, University of Pretoria

She believes the Mandela family threats of legal action had very little chance of succeeding. The basis for a legal threat in South Africa would be defamation, she says.

One would have to show that something said in the book was harmful to someone's character or was blatantly untrue and in the book quite the opposite was done, she adds.

He was shown in a very positive light rather than trying to break down his reputation.

Beth le Roux, Publishing professor, University of Pretoria

Five errors were identified by the Nelson Mandela Foundation but Le Roux says unless they were substantive errors it is unlikely to carry weight.

She says while a doctor writing such a book could be considered unethical, it is not illegal.

Listen to the interview below:


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