NEWS & ANALYSIS

Paul Trewhela's reply to Professor Shubin

"It is strange that Mayibuye Books permitted so many errors to appear"

I respond to Professor Shubin (see here) by citing my sources. The original English translation of his book states:

"On the eve of Ronnie's [ie, Kasril's] departure, on 20 March, two prominent members of the ANC Executive came to Moscow on their way to Havana . They described to us the rapidly changing situation: Jacob Zuma was leaving for South Africa the next day at a head of the ANC forward group to prepare for the arrival of the top leadership. Joe Nhlanhla was supposed to join the group the following week. Our discussion took longer than I expected. I needed to phone Ronnie. I spoke to him in Russian, as if I was calling my family. Compounding my problems was the fact that both comrades were Soviet graduates and understood Russian perfectly. Both of them were heavily involved in sensitive ANC matters and they probably knew about Kasrils's mission, but nonetheless we strictly followed the secrecy rules established earlier by Tambo and Slovo." (Vladimir Shubin, ANC: A View from Moscow, Mayibuye Books, University of the Western Cape , Bellville,1999. p.366-367)

This is an exact replica of the relevant passage in Professor Shubin's book, as published in English translation in 1999 by Mayibuye Books, a South African publishing house directly associated at the time with the ANC and the SACP.

There is clearly confusion in this text as to whether Jacob Zuma was on his way "to Havana " or - much more likely - "leaving for South Africa ". This confusion or corruption of the original Russian text was not my concern. I deliberately made no reference to it.

However, I see no reason to question my use of Shubin's statement that "both comrades were Soviet graduates and understood Russian perfectly", as clearly from his text referring to Jacob Zuma and the late Mr Nhlanhla. If this was in fact a mangled text in its reference to Mr Zuma, this should have been sorted out between Professor Shubin and Mayibuye Books before publication. There is no reference to Mr Sigxashe on either of pages 366 or 367, or anywhere in the relevant chapter, or indeed anywhere at all in the book, except a single citation on p.222.

Professor Shubin would have been more forthright if he had said straight out that the text in the Mayibuye edition of his book in this passage was in a mess, and that the book is unreliable. I do not have the revised English-language edition of his book, published by Jacana last year, but I understand that the text at the relevant passage reads:

"On the eve of Kasrils's departure, on 20 March, Joseph Nhlanhla and Sizakele Sigxashe, both members of the ANC Executive, came to Moscow on their way to Havana. They described to us the rapidly changing situation: Jacob Zuma was leaving for South Africa the next day as head of the ANC forward group to prepare for the arrival of the top leadership. Joe Nhlanhla was supposed to join the group the following week. Our discussion took longer than expected. I needed to phone Kasrils. Compounding my problems was the fact that both comrades were Soviet graduates and understood Russian perfectly." (Jacana, 2008. p.291)

One must accept Dr Shubin's correction in 2008 of the 1999 English-language text of his book. One must also accept from this that his reference to the two top ANC security and intelligence officials who "were Soviet graduates and understood Russian perfectly" did not refer to Jacob Zuma, who nevertheless - as a member of the SACP Politburo, and as the third in the triumvirate of ANC securocrats at the time - was in Moscow at the time. Dr Shubin should now provide his readers with full details of Jacob Zuma's periods of training in the USSR.

As to my reference to Professor Shubin having been a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, I was merely citing the following statement on the blurb at the back of the Mayibuye (1999) edition of this same book. There it states: "The author, at the time a key representative of both the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, is especially well qualified to write this extraordinarily revealing account." 

It appears I was too trusting. It is strange that Professor Shubin and Mayibuye Books permitted so many significant errors to appear. But that was his problem, and that of Mayibuye Books, not mine.

Paul Trewhela

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