Freedom of speech comes at a cost

Staff Writer | May 16, 2019
Another ‘Gangster State’ event called off over security concerns.

A University of the Free State (UFS) panel discussion on Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture, scheduled for next week, has been cancelled because of security concerns.

Gangster State deals with Magashule’s alleged corrupt dealings in his former role as premier of the Free State.

Security concerns were cited for calling off a talk on the book scheduled for 23 May at the UFS Business School, and intended to be jointly hosted by the business school, the Association for Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), national book chain Exclusive Books and the publisher, Penguin Random House.

But the UFS Business School wrote to Penguin: ‘You are free to go ahead with the event, on the same time and date, but not on campus.’ UFS indicated that the event had been ‘postponed to the second semester of this year’, but Penguin described it as a cancellation. 

"We are stunned that the University of the Free State has cancelled a public book event that has been advertised for some time,’ said Penguin CEO Steve Connolly

This is the third instance in which a scheduled launch event for the book has been disrupted or called off.

On Wednesday night, Free State radio station OFM quoted ANC Youth League spokesperson Sello Peterson as saying the league would have relished the opportunity to engage Myburgh intellectually on what Peterson claimed were falsehoods and lies in the book.

‘In our view, we would have been very happy to form part of that nonsensical lecture because we are prepared to go and expose it for what it is. For the university to postpone it is not really a train smash. It’s assisting because, like we said before, the book does not belong in the [archives of] our history, it does not belong anywhere within the intellectual discourse because it’s fiction, which must be understood as the rubbish which it is.’

The radio station quoted Peterson as saying: ‘We would have welcomed that white boy to come to the province and engage [with] him.’

The timing of the cancellation is a moment of schadenfreude for the media; it takes place in the same month as the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.

Penguin’s Connolly said: ‘It is the university’s role to stand up for free speech, and the security office is there to defend that right if necessary… this has all the hallmarks of cowardice in the face of pressure to cancel the event from powerful forces in the Free State.’


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