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Cancelled or postponed? Another ‘Gangster State’ event hits a bump

The University of the Free State said it postponed the event around Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book but the publisher said it was already looking for another venue.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh.Picture: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – Investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State: Unraveling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture has hit another bump as the University of the Free State ‘cancelled’ its event.

In a statement released on Thursday, publisher Penguin Random House said the university cancelled the 23 May event under the “advice of the security department”.

“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.”

Penguin said the university cancelled the panel discussion around the book without informing them and the author.

However, in a statement released by the university on Thursday, it said the event had been postponed.

“The assessment on the discussion of Gangster State, the book by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, was based on [an] 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.”

Despite the university saying the event had been postponed, Penguin's Surita Joubert told Eyewitness News that they were looking into an alternative venue for the event and that security was always in place during their events.

"Prior to this, only one of our events has been cancelled due to security concerns. A launch at the Exclusive Books V&A Waterfront in Cape Town was postponed, but we moved it that same night to another venue and then successfully hosted an event at the Waterfront a week later. We always ask venues that we partner with to arrange security officers to be present during the event."

She emphasised that none of what was happening around the book's events would stop them from continuing to promote it.

"We believe in free speech and we will continue to arrange events for this title. Pieter-Louis Myburgh has the right, like any author, to celebrate and debate his book with the public and as the publisher, we will enable this as far as possible."

In a Twitter post, Myburgh said: “A group of ANC [African National Congress] thugs threaten to violently disrupt Gangster State book event at University of the Free State.”

On Thursday, the book was expected to be discussed at the Exclusive Books store in Menlyn Park, Pretoria.

This is not the first time events around the book have been cancelled or postponed.

In April, Myburgh’s launch of his book was forced to shut down after a group of disgruntled African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) supporters stormed the venue, ripping apart books and disrupting proceedings.

The crowd, at the Exclusive Books in Sandton, dispersed after police were called in to return calm at the store.

Exclusive Books CEO Grattan Kirk then said the damage to books amounted to R30,000. He said books were torn and stolen. However, there was no extensive damage to property, he said.

A few days later, the book’s event in Cape Town had to be moved to another venue.

It was initially scheduled to take place at the Exclusive Books in the V&A Waterfront mall but had to be moved to Primedia offices after mall security cited ‘security concerns’ as well following the Sandton incident.

LISTEN: Pieter-Louis Myburgh dissects his book on Ace Magashule

The ANC and Magashule have in the past distanced themselves from disruptions at the book's events.

In a statement, Magashule described disruption that took place in Sandton as a reflection of political intolerance which went against freedom of expression and that they were not done in his name.

ANC spokesperson Dakota Legoete in April said they viewed those actions in a very serious light.

"As the African National Congress, we must say that we are disappointed with the conduct of those people who claim to be members of the ANC and we want to fully condemn and distance ourselves from their actions because they do not represent the society envisaged by the ANC."

WATCH: ANC distances itself from disrupted book launch

ABOUT THE 'GANGSTER STATE' BOOK

In the book, Myburgh ventured deeper into Ace Magashule's murky dealings, from his time as a struggle activist in the 1980s to his powerful rule as premier of the Free State province for nearly a decade, and his rise to one of the ANC’s most influential positions.

Sifting through heaps of records, documents and exclusive source interviews, Myburgh explored Magashule’s relationship with the Gupta family and other tender moguls; investigated government projects costing billions that enriched his friends and family but failed the poor; revealed how he was about to be arrested by the Scorpions before their disbandment in the late 2000s; and exposed the methods used to keep him in power in the Free State and secured him the post of ANC secretary-general.

Myburgh pieced together a pack of leaked emails and documents to reveal shocking new details on a massive Free State government contract and Magashule’s dealings with a businessman who was gunned down in Sandton in 2017. Those files seemed to lay bare the methods of a man who usually operated without leaving a trace.

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