Choking on the Oppenheimers
“How Pahad censored Roberts” (January 11) is a headline at war with its facts. As with my Gordimer biography, I invited comments, accepting the helpful and rejecting the rest.
“I may say at this point, before dealing with other matters, that you also surely must have seen how your book has lost nothing in the cuts made,” Gordimer wrote on March 5 2003.
That is not censorship. A censor attempts to overwhelm the will and judgment of the writer. Gordimer subsequently attempted that, but Essop Pahad and Thabo Mbeki never did.
Why then the mysterious email in which Minister Pahad urged changes “in the strongest terms”? Lying as he tends to, Anthony Brink tried to convince the M&G that this email was Pahad’s overwhelming instruction to me, even asserting that the handwriting on it was mine and submitting a writing sample! The handwriting is not nearly mine, as the M&G concedes. I saw the email for the first time when journalists forwarded it last week. It was never an instruction to me. It puzzled me because I had already accepted the suggestions. The format was also puzzling: Essop’s comments were generally marginalia on drafts, never checklists or peremptory edicts.
The explanation lay in my publisher’s fear about publishing an attack on the Oppenheimers. “We flagged Oppenheimer and took it to Essop. You wouldn’t have agreed to it otherwise,” my publisher belatedly disclosed to me last week. Unknown to the publisher and contrary to his nervous speculation, I had already agreed to these changes. But he was apparently not taking any chances and he convinced himself, quite imaginatively and unnecessarily, that an email stunt might help.
Thus my publisher, a genuinely courageous man, finally choked over the Oppenheimers. The real story is the old one: local knowledge production stands in terror of Oppenheimer carrots and sticks. This imbroglio illustrates the continuing colonisation of our mind-space, which President Mbeki highlighted in his inaugural internet letter six years ago. And Jacob Zuma quoted Mbeki’s language just last week. The continuing resistance to colonial discourse is a major plank of the post-Polokwane consensus.
Roberts wrote Fit to Govern: The Native Intelligence of Thabo Mbeki