/ 24 November 2007

Journalist demands apology from Gevisser

Journalist Charlene Smith on Friday demanded a public apology from Mark Gevisser, author of the book Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, saying he had published ”serious inaccuracies”.

Smith said she had sent a letter to Gevisser and his publisher, Jonathan Ball, calling on them to issue the apologies in the form of a press statement and newspaper advertisements.

She was referring to an article by her, published in the Washington Post in 2000, that Gevisser quoted in his biography of Mbeki.

Gevisser wrote that: ”Charlene Smith would write in the Washington Post that rape was ‘endemic’ in Africa and had become ‘a prime means of transmitting the disease, to young women, as well as children’.”

Smith countered: ”Even the most cursory reading of that article reveals that I wrote no such thing. If he read them [the articles] nicely, then he wouldn’t have gotten it wrong.”

In a statement, Gevisser responded to Smith’s allegations by saying he had ”quoted her absolutely accurately” from the Washington Post.

Smith said that on page 749 of his tome, Gevisser repeated the defamation by writing: ”[Mbeki’s] response a few months later to Charlene Smith’s comment that rape was ‘endemic’ to African culture shows that he had developed an acute understanding of the way Aids was being used, specifically, to stigmatise male sexuality.

”In her ‘blind racist rage’ following her rape, Mbeki wrote, Smith represented the ‘considerable number of people in our country who believe and are convinced that most black [African] men carry the HI virus’ — and were using sexual violence to spread it.”

Smith said that rape is not about race, but about a few ”sick individuals”. She said Gevisser repeated his defamation of her at a University of the Witwatersrand launch of his book when he said: ”Careless language by Charlene Smith said rape was endemic in African society.”

According to Smith, the claim that rape is ‘an endemic feature of African society’ was made by Mbeki in a letter to former Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon dated July 1 2000.

Smith demanded that future copies of the book be edited to ”accurately reflect” the truth.

Jonathan Ball said that Smith was basing her objections on a misreading of Gevisser.

”Ms Smith is a brave and respected figure about whom Gevisser has, in fact, expressed no view in his book — he has simply reported what President Mbeki’s views were on the issue in question involving Smith.

”We do not believe that there is anything either ‘defamatory’ or ‘grossly inaccurate’ in the passages to which Ms Smith has objected,” the publisher said in a statement. — Sapa