Since the article was written there has happily been a reconcilliation between Fred Bridgland and Sisonke Msimang. I am publishing their conversation, just below, with the original article beneath that.
Martin

Dear Mr Brigland,

I am reaching out to say sorry.

Jeremy called me today and expressed to me that you are unhappy about the tweet I sent a few weeks ago in which I referred to you as ‘an apartheid apologist.’  I apologise unreservedly.  I should not have sent that tweet.  It was wrong.

In these racially charged times my response was reckless. I did not hold myself to the standards to which I hold others and to which I try to hold myself. Indeed, I was acting in a similar way to the publisher — feeding into radicalised language to score points.

I have deleted the tweet and during the course of the day tomorrow I will also post a message to social media making it clear that I apologise without reservation and providing the same reasons I have outlined above.  You are also of course, free to share this message with colleagues and friends.

Again, my most sincere apologies.

Best regards,

Sisonke


Edinburgh, 9 November,

Dear Sisonke,

First, an apology. I got home late last night and did not think I could give the proper attention to your kind and generous-minded e-mail letter that it deserved. So I decided to delay my reply until early this morning when my tiny mind is at its least worst …..

Second, I repeat that I do accept your apology fully and unconditionally. I have become increasingly interested in the latter years of my career in the difficult art of peace-making, from international levels down to reconciliation between individuals. It is not easy and requires high-mindedness and leaps of imagination between protagonists. It usually needs planets to become aligned at the mega level. Between individuals two hands are needed to clap. Thank you for offering your hand; I return mine.

Third, I offer you an apology for the kind of fight back I had been planning to your allegation against me. It would have been ugly and sucked us both into a mire that would only have made us unhappy. Your magnanimity has relieved me of that burden. Thank you, and I withdraw unreservedly those thoughts that had been informing my battle plans!!

We don’t need to tell each other that southern Africa is a rough region with a tragic history and great potential. You and I have come to the challenge from different polarities and entirely different life experiences. I do assure you that when I was posted to Zambia in 1974 for Reuters I was pumped up by the belief that I was going to destroy apartheid by the power of my pen and typewriter. Experience of realities has knocked me about more than just a bit. I now have rougher edges and have come to believe that truth is rarely pure and never simple [to plagiarise Oscar Wilde!]. Increasingly my writing has become more counter-intuitive. I have not been afraid to be controversial when necessary. But throughout these experiences I have never wavered from the core belief that people should not be judged on the pigment of their skin. It’s too ridiculous, and in my case hugely impractical because there are people of every possible colour in my extended family and among my closest friends. [By the way, I’m a kind of pinky-gray, as you might notice when we meet on 16 November in London].

I recognise and respect your observation about these racially charged times and that the trauma can lead to judgments we later regret. Though rationally these things should be easy and simple, history in fact tells us they are incredibly difficult. Ironically and serendipitly, my partner, the science author Sue Armstrong, has just finished reading your book Always Another Country. She admired it, for its style and its honesty, and urged me to read it. My response was to say I would never read a book by “that woman”!: I now, of course, have to move Always Another Country to high on my reading list, and I hope you will sign Sue’s copy for her when we meet in London.

Enough for now. Too much to talk about. But again thank you so much for relieving me of a heavy burden.

Hamba kahle,

Kind regards,

Fred


Original article

By Paul Trewhela, former political prisoner and author
The journalist, author and Daily Maverick Opinionista, Sisonke Msimang, has tweeted a remark describing Fred Bridgland, the author of Truth, Lies and Alibis: A Winnie Mandela Story, published by Tafelberg earlier this month, as an “apartheid apologist”.
Sisonke Msimang (@Sisonkemsimang)
It has come to my attention that a new book about #WinnieMandela written by an apartheid apologist has a blurb on the back taken from an article I wrote in the M&G. This is a sneaky marketing effort and I do not endorse the book. I will be writing to the publishers formally.
She writes: “It has come to my attention that a new book about Winnie Mandela written by an apartheid apologist has a blurb on the back taken from an article I wrote in the M&G.”  Ms Msimang objects to the fact that a quotation from her published writing is cited along with quotations from other South Africans on the back cover of Bridgland’s book, all relating to Winnie Mandela as a historical figure, though none of the quotations referring to Bridgland’s book..
I will not deal here with the legitimacy or illegitimacy of quotations from published writings being cited on the cover of a book. I want to deal with the smear on the veteran journalist and author, Fred Bridgland, in Ms Msimang’s reference to him as an”apartheid apologist”.
First, it is clear from her tweet that she had not read Mr Bridgland’s book before tweeting her smear, and did not have a copy herself. I’m speculating that this is possibly because, as I understand, Ms Msimang is normally resident at this time with her family in Australia, and that Bridgland’s book is currently not yet on sale there.
I note only that her smear on a fellow writer is issued on the basis of non-acquaintance with the text of that writer’s book, which Ms Msimang notes she will “not endorse”.
Secondly, I note that a new book by Ms Msimang, The Resurrection of Winnie Mandela, is due for publication by Jonathan Ball this month.
Readers in South Africa will consequently soon have two different books about Winnie Mandela to compare.
My main attention, however, goes to the accusation “apartheid apologist”, directed by Ms Msimang at Fred Bridgland.
What Bridgland establishes in his book with thoroughness and exemplary sourcing, however, is that Winnie Mandela was protected from being sent to prison by the apartheid state, following the murders in Soweto of Stompie Moeketsi Seipei and Dr Abu-Baker Asvat in December 1988/ January 1989. As former foreign correspondent in South Africa for two British newspapers from 1991, Bridgland investigates this relation between Winnie Mandela and the apartheid state in its final years with the forensic attention of a world quality reporter. It is a shocking theme of his book, running counter to the narrative of liberation heroine and one which readers should assess for themselves.
Ms Msimang will have to deal with the following facts:
  • Security police officer Colonl Daniel Bosman testified at the 1997 inquiry of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the security police had been bugging the phone in Mrs Mandela’s house in Soweto on 29, 30 and 31 December 1988 over the period when Stompie Moeketsi was murdered, and recorded her speaking on the phone. This knocked out the claim by her defence counsel , George Bizos SC, that she was in Brandfort over the same three days, which was accepted by the judge in her trial in 1991 and another judge in her appeal in 1993. This crucial evidence was not presented by the prosecution in her trial.
According to Bosman, “this was all passed on to the Murder and Robbery Unit, Soweto”, but the prosecution said “the information was too sensitive to use. They did not want to make the information public.”
Bridgland reports that Bosman said Attorney-General Klaus von Lieres had “repeatedly refused to use the evidence. … It appeared as if nobody wanted to touch her. It felt to us as if she were untouchable.”
According to Bosman, the tapes were destroyed by order of the apartheid government in late 1993 and early 1994, prior to the first democratic elections. (Bridgland, pp.223-25)
  • National Party Justice Minister at that time, Kobie Coetsee, later told the journalist and author John Carlin, correspondent for the London Independent, that he and the chief of the apartheid regime’s National Intelligence Service, Niel Barnard, had “conveyed a message” to “relevant members of the judiciary to show Winnie leniency.”  (Bridgland, p.257)
  • Bridgland reports that one of the members of the Mandela United Football Club who was in Mrs Mandela’s house at the time Stompie was murdered, Katiza Cebekhulu, told the TRC inquiry “he had approached Captain Fred Dempsey, the senior officer in charge of the investigation into the murder of Stompie Moeketsi, and state prosecutor Chris van Vuuren to say he had seen Mrs Mandela murder Stompie. Both said they did not believe him. Dempsey refused to take a statement from him; Van Vuuren made extensive notes.”
Bridgland continues that Cebekhulu told the TRC he was ordered by Dempsey to get into a police car with other police officers, and that Dempsey then drove to Mrs Mandela’s house “where the police handed him over to her.” (Bridgland, pp.230-31)
The TRC concluded that Mrs Mandela had not been in Brandfort, as she and her counsel had alleged.
My argument is that it is this substantive argument which needs attention, that Mrs Mandela was shielded by the apartheid state in its final years from being sent to prison.
Fred Bridgland states in the Prologue: “After a career in journalism across four continents, I found I had grown more concerned about the stories of ‘little’ and ‘unimportant’ people rather than those about the rich, famous and high-ranking living in their self-important bubbles.” (p.13) The bulk of his book, which I am not reporting here, concerns Bridgland’s firsthand interviews with these people, principally in Soweto.
In his Introduction, he writes about the experience of Winnie Mandela over this period with direct relation to the dire state of South Africa today, following State Capture and corruption across its public institutions: “Following the TRC’s confirmation of the true story – that indeeds she was not in Brandfort – she was not charged with perjury by the nation’s prosecuting authority. How did this come about, and how high in the ranks of South Africa’s National Party and African National Congress political establishments was the Brandfort alibi concocted? What does this mean for politicians’ respect for the rule of law in the democratic era? It is the main purpose of this book to try to answer these questions.” (pp. 16-17)
Sisonke Msimang’s smear of Fred Bridgland as an “apartheid apologist” should be considered in this context.
Whether or not there is “Resurrection” for Winnie Mandela, as the title of Ms Msimang’s book suggests, she was no Jesus Christ.