/ 26 May 2023

Prince’s ransom: Write what I like, says Mashaba

Herman Mashaba
Herman Mashaba. Photo: Phill Magakoe/Getty Images


Like many of my fellow South Africans — and those of us who sell our words for a living, in particular — I’m wondering what AuctionSA leader Herman Mashaba was thinking when he decided to secretly cough up R12.5 million for the “unauthorised” biography by Prince Mashele.

I write what you like.

Did Mashaba — and Mashele for that matter — believe, like runaway rapist and murder Thabo Bester and Nandipha Maguduwana, that they would be able to hide in plain sight and get away with pulling the wool over the public’s eyes?

Did either Mashabe and Mashele stop to consider that flogging a paid-for memoir — an ego-stroking exercise funded by the subject — as an unauthorised volume produced without permission, let alone payment, was actually an unethical (some would say fraudulent) thing to do?


Unauthorised or not, the entire episode is a real eye-opener, not for its literary content but as an exercise in Mashabanomics.

The austerity measures in public spending and fiscal discipline Mashaba has been preaching since the days when his relationship with the Tinfoil Tannie from the Western Cape was copacetic appear to apply to others and not the AuctionSA lahnee.

Three quotes for who?

At 352 pages, that’s R35 511.37 (rounded off) a page in the paperback edition — had it not been recalled by Jonathan Ball Publishers South Africa once they realised that Mashaba had, in fact, authorised Mashele’s writings and payments for 12 and a half big ones.

With a paperback page averaging 300 words a page, that’s R118.38 (rounded off, once more) a word. Not a bad day at the racetrack for Mashele — and way more than the going word rate in the world of biographies, authorised or otherwise.

Those are expensive words right there, but none of them as expensive — politically and financially — as the word “unauthorised” on the book’s cover has — and will — turn out to be for both Mashaba and Mashele.

Mashaba’s off-the-books book deal is not the type of transaction to inspire much confidence among the voters out there AuctionSA is trying to reach ahead of next year’s national and provincial elections.

Not much in the way of morals, even less when it comes to sense.

Even the party faithful must, like those of us in the word-selling game, be wondering what the hell Mashaba was thinking when he paid Mashele R118 a word.

Mashele would have to have written in golden ink — platinum maybe — or in liquid saffron to have justified 12 and a half million for a book that nobody was going to buy.

Unicorn’s milk, perhaps.

The good people at AuctionSA must also be questioning how Mashaba managed to make his fortune in the cut-throat world of business back in the day with such poor decision-making skills — and wondering what Mashaba will get up to if the voters ever give him the keys to the till.

One wonders how AuctionSA’s sugar daddies and mommies must be feeling, wondering whether it was their money or Herman’s personal stash of cash that paid for his ego project.

Exchange rate or not, the funders are talking moonshot, not covershot these days, so Mashaba may have some serious explaining to do to his friends abroad to avoid them denying him ducats and AuctionSA ending up being binned at the ballot box.

Mashele may be smiling all the way to the bank, but I’m not so sure that Mashaba will be that happy with the return he received for the Prince’s ransom he forked out for a book with a lifespan shorter than that of your average Johannesburg mayor’s term of office.

Truth is, Mashaba himself lasted far longer in the Jozi mayor’s parlour than his biography did in the bookstores — even Mpho Phalatse did, for that matter.

At least Mashaba himself had the opportunity to resign, rather than simply being recalled, disgraced, like his foray into the world of publishing.

There’s still time.

One wonders just how many bottles of hair straightener Mashaba would have had to flog in his previous life to generate the moolah to pay the Prince his price, what with inflation and all that, if he did use his own money.

One million bottles?

Two million bottles?

My money’s on 12.5, for obvious reasons, but only Mashaba — and the Gods of Growth Serum — really know.