Gumede on Gumede

Two weeks ago your correspondent wrote an article based on information supplied anonymously to newspapers and journalists in an envelope containing a list of “striking similarities” between my book and other sources. The resultant article insinuated I had paraphrased certain material or simply used other sources without attribution. This is absurd.

My book is 322 pages long, with more than 700 references, 90 listed interviews and twice as many interviews with people who asked not to be listed.
The book brings together a vast compendium of views, articles and research, some of which has been documented before.

For starters, you compared an extract from a Mark Gevisser article to one in my book and said it was not attributed. This is the passage in my book:

“Govan’s people were Mfengu, or Fingoes, early converts to Christianity, well educated and affluent. White traders called them ‘the Jews of Kaffirland’, and they produced many of the region’s elite—teachers-, preachers, shopkeepers and public servants.

“Epainettes’s family, the Moeranes, are from the equally elite Bafokeng clan and of similar background.”

This is what Gevisser wrote:

“Govan Mbeki’s family were Mfengu people (‘Fingos’), early converts to Christianity who benefited through their alliances with the British in the Eastern Cape. They were the avatars of Cape liberal capitalism, known by white traders as ‘The Jews of Kaffirland’, for they were educated, aggressive and unhampered by the feudal restrictions imposed by traditional hierarchies. They thrived—and soon became the enfranchised elite of the region: the first Africans there to ride horses, to farm commercially, to build four-walled houses; teachers, preachers and clerks.

“Epainette’s family, the Moeranes, are Basotho members of the elite Bafokeng clan and come from a similar background.”

For this passage, I used many sources, as well as Gevisser, all which factually describe Mbeki’s upbringing in more or less the same words or terms. For example, one of the alternative sources I quoted states:

“Govan Mbeki’s family were Mfengu ... educated ... His mother Epainette, was a Moerane, from the elite Bafokeng.” [Transcript of Heidi Holland’s account, BBC World Service (Radio), London, April 4 2004.]

Another source puts it thus:

“The Mbeki family was among the first mission-educated Africans, the beginnings of a rural middle class in the Eastern Cape ... His mother Epainette is from the Moerane family, which has ties with the Bafokeng royal family.” [Richard Calland and Sean Jacobs. 2002. Thabo Mbeki’s World: The Politics and Ideology of the South African President]

These sources, including Gevisser, are all listed among my references. There was never any intention to pass off Gevisser’s work as my own: I would not have listed him among my sources if I had wanted to do so.

Your article also suggested I copied from journalist Charlene Smith to compare Mandela and Mbeki’s leadership styles. In my interview with ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe on July 6 2001, which is listed at the end of the book, he used similar terms to explain Mandela’s style:

“One cannot just argue that whites have done enough. To be South African, or call this country home, means there are some duties ... some obligations. As president his [Mbeki’s] emphasis must be on transformation ... [Why] do you want to contrast his [Mbeki’s] style as different [to Mandela’s]? They are obviously fundamentally different people. At times [Mandela] would sometimes couch tough criticisms with hugs, kisses or even with a joke ... Chief, this is more a difference in emphasis.” [Interview Kgalema Motlanthe, July 6 2001.]

Furthermore, I do, in fact, reference the Smith article in my research paper, Contrasting the Policy Styles of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki and the Consolidation of South Africa’s Democracy (Leeds University, 2004), upon which my Chapters 2 and 3 are based, and which is listed among the references for these chapters. Granted, an indirect reference, even if explained in the text or preface, is not ideal, but this again proves that there was no intention to pass off anyone else’s work as my own.

Importantly, my sources are listed and acknowledged, and can be tracked. If there are any omissions, they were not deliberate. Furthermore, all the passages in question are of a very factual nature. When discussing matters such as Mbeki’s family or leader-ship style, it is inevitable that different writers will use similar terms, and this is not plagiarism. As Max du Preez rightly asked, if one describes PW Botha as “Die Groot Krokodil” without acknowledging that historian Hermann Giliomee first coined the phrase, is one guilty of plagiarism?

When I prepared the book, I was fully aware, as Patrick Lawrence would later write in his Financial Mail review, that “after this book, Gumede will have few friends and many powerful enemies”. Sadly, most of the accusations so far have centred on discrediting me, rather than dealing with the substance of the contents. Knowing the hostile responses I was bound to evoke, I took special care to get the referencing right as far as humanly possible. More than 40 people—Mbeki allies, critics and neutral observers, including top legal minds—combed through parts of the manuscript before publication. Sadly, the damage to the victim of an anonymous smear campaign of this nature can never really be undone.

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