“If ‘big and scary’ Gayton had done this, I would have strangled him” – Charles Cilliers on Mashaba book furore

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba’s book, written by political commentator Prince Mashele, has sparked controversy following the revelation that Mashaba contributed to its funding, despite being advertised as an unauthorised biography, Jonathan Ball Publishers withdrew the book from the market, citing a breach of trust, as Mashele failed to disclose the source of the funding. The source of the funding was disclosed by Brutus Malada, a senior researcher on the book who is married to former Democratic Alliance mayor Mpho Phalatse. Charles Cilliers, author and Co-Founder of the Patriotic Alliance, expressed astonishment at the reported payment of R12.5 million to Mashele, deeming it an “unfathomable amount”. Cilliers further commented that this controversy could have negative repercussions for Mashaba and ActionSA, adding that if his “big and scary” leader, Gayton McKenzie, had done the same, he would have strangled him. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:59 – Charles Cilliers on the lack of political outcry surrounding Herman Mashaba’s biography scandal
  • 01:46 – Cilliers on the deception from Mashaba and Prince Mashele
  • 03:12 – On Mashaba avoiding a public explanation
  • 04:15 – On the R12.5 Million price to write the biography
  • 08:58 – On Mashele comparing Mashaba to Steve Jobs
  • 11:13 – On why political parties have remained quiet on the situation
  • 13:02 – On Mashaba losing the trust of voters
  • 14:48 – On Mashaba losing the trust of ActionSA donors
  • 17:40 – On Brutus Malada and Mpho Phalatse

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Excerpts from the interview

A lot of explaining from ActionSA that does not sound good

I personally do respect many people in ActionSA and Michael Beaumont in particular, but I don’t want to be in this scenario because it’s an unenviable situation to be in. I read another book about Herman Mashaba, The Accidental Mayor when that came out… and there’s a line in that book that I’ll never forget, which isn’t his coinage. But, he was expressing the political truism that if you’re explaining in politics, you’re losing and unfortunately, there’s a heck of a lot of explaining that has to happen here. You just don’t want to be in that position, especially not in politics. You do not want to have to be explaining yourself and unfortunately, these explanations don’t sound amazing. They don’t sound very good from where I’m sitting. 

Read more: Meet PA co-founder Charles Cilliers – be prepared to change your perceptions

Prince Mashele suffered almost irrecoverable harm

That interview that he gave on television that I saw this morning was a bit of a train wreck. Honestly, you have to ask yourself why you would even go on and do interviews if that’s how you’re going to perform. It’s going to be difficult for him to recover from this, honestly, because he had such an amazing reputation, and such a good name as an analyst, and this has done him some harm. I don’t wish him any harm personally, but the fact is that he’s suffered some probably almost irrecoverable harm here. No one is ever going to pay him R12.5 million to write a book ever again. I don’t think anyone ever was going to anyway but this will be a hard thing to come back from. 

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You have to sell 500 000 copies of a book to break even on R12.5 million

It is an unfathomable amount of money. If you look at political biographies that have done well in this country, Long Walk to Freedom has globally sold 15 million copies. So, if you’re going to go and sell 15 million copies of a book, then that makes R12.5 million seem quite reasonable.

But if you go with the traditional publishing model, which they would have had with Jonathan Ball, they’re one of the most established local companies for publishing and let’s say 15%, I mean you still have to sell upwards of 500,000 copies to just break even to get your R12.5 million back. So, the question that I had to ask myself is, was Herman Mashaba just being incredibly optimistic about how many books he’s likely to sell, which makes you wonder if he’s an egomaniac because it’s highly unlikely you’re going to sell 500,000 copies. Jake White’s book about winning the [Rugby] World Cup was one of the most successful books in the country and at one point it crossed 100,000.

Read more: Herman Mashaba – Opposition pact’s ‘Elephant in the Room’ exposed in Joburg Mayoral Drama

If Gayton did this I would have strangled him

From a business point of view, it just simply doesn’t make sense. So, this is a man who has been sold to us as this enormously successful businessman. He knows what he’s doing, and cuts a good deal. If Gayton McKenzie, the president of the PA, had done this, I would have strangled him as big and scary as he is, and I would have just said, you’re supposed to be better at business than this. You can get the best writer in this country to do a book like that for you for, I suppose, R2 million, and then you’re going top, top top top tier and then I suppose you’re doing that with the understanding that you’re not going to make money, that it’s a vanity project and you’re throwing this money at it and it’s fine. You want votes, you want people to read about how wonderful you are. I think the criticism that people have is that when they’ve got this side deal here with a non-disclosure agreement and all of that, you’re effectively funding a hagiography. You’re funding a praise piece. They’re trying to sell it now to say Prince Mishela was still independently doing this. I’m not going to give you R12.5 and then still allow you to insult me at the end of that.

Read more: Herman Mashaba shares how ActionSA intends seeing off the threatened ANC/EFF coalition in 2024

Book controversy will hurt Action SA

Where ActionSA was really searching for that middle-class voter that would look quite seriously at something like the DA and ActionSA was trying to present itself as an alternative in that space, and that’s probably the kind of person that would buy the book anyway, that person is not going to sit there and say, ‘I’m not sure if I can fully trust this person.’ Now, we know that nobody trusts the politician because politicians will disappoint you. They’ll lie at some point. But so orchestration had gone on and I understand that ActionSA is saying that Herman Mashaba didn’t see the cover and that the unauthorised part wasn’t approved by him, but that even if you grant them that and say, okay, we’ll have a pass on that, there’s still too many questions here that a critical person is going to feel uncomfortable with. So, I can’t see that this wouldn’t hurt ActionSA, especially if they’re trying to position themselves as an alternative to the DA, which is also full of its own deceptions and little stratagems and so on, but has never had to navigate something as personally embarrassing to the leader of the party as this.

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