Media24 has unreservedly apologised to former finance minister Barend du Plessis for the harm caused to him and his family by the allegations contained in the book The Lost Boys of Bird Island – in which claims of paedophilia are made against apartheid-era ministers.
In a statement released on Tuesday evening, CEO Ishmet Davidson, on behalf of Media24, extended an unreserved and sincere apology to Du Plessis and his family as well as to the families of former ministers Magnus Malan and John Wiley for the harm caused by the allegations contained in the book.
“Media24 acknowledges that these allegations are unfounded and the book itself has already been withdrawn from trade – both in digital and print formats.”
“A settlement offer of R3 million is extended to Barend du Plessis as compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the allegations in question,” Davidson said.
Earlier this month, the Afrikaans and English editions of the controversial book were withdrawn from circulation in both print and digital formats.
The book would also not be reprinted, NB Publishers – which is owned by Media24 – said previously.
“NB regrets and sincerely apologises for the emotional harm that the publication of the book may have caused the Malan and Wiley families.”
In the book – which was co-written by Chris Steyn and Mark Minnie, who took his own life in August 2018 – three former National Party ministers, including strongman Malan and Wiley, are named as central figures in a paedophilia ring that operated during apartheid.
Malan and Wiley are dead.
The third former minister was not named in the book, but Du Plessis publicly stated he believed he was being implicated.
Last month, Tafelberg, a subsiduary of NB Publishers which published the book, said it had withdrawn unsold copies of both the Afrikaans and English editions of the book from bookshops, and the e-book had been removed from online e-trade platforms.
‘Unsold copies withdrawn’
It said at the time, statements in the book might suggest Du Plessis, though not mentioned by name, might have been involved in the sexual abuse of under-aged boys.
“While attempts were made to conceal his identity, NB Publishers accepts that the books contain sufficient information to identify Mr Du Plessis as an involved party,” it added.
“The contested statements could not be verified independently. NB Publishers unreservedly apologises for the publication of these allegations to the extent that they implicate Mr Du Plessis, and for the attendant infringement of his dignity and impairment of his reputation as well as the emotional distress this caused him and his family.
“In order to limit further distribution of the book, NB Publishers has withdrawn unsold copies of both the Afrikaans and English editions of the book from bookshops and the e-book has been removed from online e-trade platforms.
“This apology is limited to Mr Du Plessis and does not extend to any other person identified in the book as having played a role in the events portrayed in the book. NB Publishers shall defend any attempt at discrediting the book and its contents in the appropriate forum.”
‘Web of lies’
Last month, a statement issued by Du Plessis’ legal representatives, Johan Victor Attorneys, described the book as a “web of lies”. It added he had hired a private investigator who found a “lack of proper and substantive research by the authors and the publisher”.
“The inescapable fact is that 24 years since the first reports, featuring the same sleazy allegations appeared in some of Media24’s most prominent publications, and 32 years since the alleged acts would have occurred, there has been no evidence whatsoever from any of many investigations that implicates any of the ministers in the despicable crimes alleged in the book,” the statement read.
In April last year, Afrikaans Sunday newspaper Rapport apologised for publishing accusations of sexual assault made against the National Party ministers in the controversial book.
Following the publication of the book, Rapport’s journalists independently followed up on several of the accusations made in the book, it wrote.
“But none of the damaging accusations could be independently verified and our reporters could find no concrete evidence thereof,” it said.
Since publication, investigations into the authenticity of the claims were reportedly conducted by private investigator Wouter de Swardt on behalf of the SA Human Rights Commission; Jacques Pauw, an investigative journalist at Vrye Weekblad and best-selling author, and Derek Watts of M-Net’s Carte Blanche.
In addition, in an email to publisher Maryna Lamprecht of Tafelberg, sent two weeks before his suicide and four days before the book’s publication, Minnie wrote: “We have no concrete evidence that any of the three ministers sexually assaulted any of the victims [mentioned in the book].”
In September 2018, News24 carried an exclusive, scathing review of the book by Pauw.
Pauw wrote: “It is ultimately a tragedy that Minnie botched the Bird Island investigation. The lost boys deserved better but as a result, there is virtually no detail of the events that took place.”