UFS postpones Free State 'Gangster State' launch indefinitely citing 'security concerns'
The Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture author has learnt "with shock" that his Bloemfontein leg of the book tour would be postponed due to a security threat.
"It was quite a shock this afternoon, we had an event scheduled for next week Thursday in Bloemfontein, Free State. I heard from another journalist that the University of the Free State (UFS) is going to postpone the event. It wasn't coming from the organisers or the publishers," author Pieter Louis-Myburgh told News24 on Wednesday.
"I understand that the UFS security department was threatened by a faction of the ANC or people who claim to be part of the ANC that they would disrupt the event with violence."
The planned event next Thursday follows a series of disruptions in Johannesburg and Cape Town by protesters believed to be ANC members, which also led to the book launches postponed in those cities.
Acting ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete previously condemned the actions in Sandton, and said the party would act against members who had disrupted the book launch.
'Not in my name' - Ace
The subject of the book, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, distanced himself from the disruptions, saying it was "not in his name", News24 reported previously.
The explosive book delves into the empire Magashule built in the province where he was premier and leader of the ANC in the Free State, positions he held unchallenged for many years before he was elected into the ANC's top six as general-secretary.
Myburgh fears the postponement on the university's part is, in fact, a cancellation as he has not been given an alternative date.
"They buckled to the pressure and cancelled. It is not a postponement but a cancellation due to a group of thugs who do not respect the right to conduct an open discussion.
"UFS owes the public an explanation. If it is such a viable threat, we need to know who is making this threat," he said.
The investigative journalist remains determined to have this discussion and will be convening with all stakeholders to secure a "Plan B" for the Free State.
'I am not nervous'
"We believe we have a right to conduct this gathering.
"I am not nervous to go to the province, we shouldn't allow ourselves to become threatened. We will always assess the security threat. At the end of the day, what kind of a country are we living in if journalists cannot do their job properly?" he said.
On Wednesday, Daily Maverick reported that an email from a staffer at the UFS business school sent to Penguin on Wednesday mentioned supposed security concerns raised by the university's security services, without divulging any further details.
"You are free to go ahead with the event, on the same time and date, but not on campus," the UFS Business School staffer reportedly wrote in her email to Penguin.
On Wednesday, Helena van Zyl, director of the UFS Business School, told Daily Maverick that the university's security services "suggested that we postpone the event to the year's second semester".
ANCYL spokesperson, Sello Peterson, told OFM they would have loved to intellectually engage with Myburgh to demonstrate what he calls the falsehood and lies allegedly contained in his 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," he told the radio station.
Responding to the risk assessment done by the UFS, Peterson reportedly said there is no place in the country declared as no-go zones.
"We would have welcomed that white boy to come to the province and engage [with] him," Peterson said.
Penguin Random House (PRH) on Thursday slammed UFS for postponing the event.
"We are stunned that the University of the Free State has cancelled a public book event that has been advertised for some time. They did this without even informing us as publisher or the author. The event was arranged in partnership with the UFS Business School and the Association of Fraud Examiners (ACFE) for 23 May," the publisher said in a statement.
"Gangster State was published over a month ago. It has been quoted widely and a large number of public events have taken place around the country."
PRH CEO Steve Connolly said: "We believe the university cancelled the event on the advice of the security department there. It is the university's role to stand up for free speech, and the security office is there to defend that right if necessary.
"The first Cape Town launch of Gangster State was similarly cancelled on the advice of the Waterfront security team, but we managed to move the event a kilometre or two away and it passed off peacefully. When it was rescheduled in the Waterfront a week later, it also passed off peacefully."
"Obviously we do not have all the details, but this has all the hallmarks of cowardice in the face of pressure to cancel the event from powerful forces in the Free State," said Connolly.
Similarly, UFS issued the following statement on Thursday: "The University of the Free State (UFS) conducts risk and threat assessments for all events in order to ensure the protection of its students, staff, and infrastructure.
"All risk and threat assessments are based on the evaluation of all information collected in respect of the specific event, as well as on environmental scanning in the community the university operates in.
"The assessment on the discussion of Gangster State, the book by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, was based on a similar exercise that indicates that the event could be disrupted, putting the UFS, its staff, and students at risk.
"Although the event has been postponed to the second semester of this year, the university emphasises its commitment to upholding freedom of expression and its need to assess the latter within a specific context," the statement read.
- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter