A new self-serving book by a central African president lists Nelson Mandela as the writer of the glowing foreword, but South Africa's iconic leader says he never wrote those words or even read the tome, and his foundation vowed to take action.
"We condemn this brazen abuse of Mr. Mandela's name," Verne Harris, acting chief executive of the Johannesburg-based Nelson Mandela Foundation, said in a statement Tuesday.
The as-told-to political biography by Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is titled "Straight Speaking for Africa," and the front cover claims in large type that Mandela penned the foreword. Amazon.com, one of the book's sellers, says in a blurb that the foreword praises Sassou-Nguesso as "one of our great African leaders."
That may have raised an eyebrow among readers who know that while Mandela helped end apartheid, won his country's first all-race elections, then stepped down gracefully when his term was over, Sassou-Nguesso came to power in a coup three decades ago and
has been in power intermittently ever since.
The Mandela foundation occasionally issues statements on attempts to exploit his name, but rarely in language as sharp as that used on Tuesday.
"We will be taking appropriate action," Harris said in the statement, adding that Mandela decided last year to stop contributing forewords to books despite being "overwhelmed" with requests.
Officials in Sassou-Nguesso's government said they were unable to respond to the statement.
Paris-based Michel Lafon, which first published the book in French earlier this year, said Sassou-Nguesso provided the preface and offered no further comment.
Kassahun Checole, whose Trenton, New Jersey-based Africa World Press Inc. published the English version last month, said he was unaware of the controversy when contacted by The Associated Press.
He said he simply published what Michel Lafon gave him when editors at the French house approached him about distributing the book in the U.S., "and if they have doubts about it, we will withdraw the book, no doubt."
In the book, Checole said, Sassou-Nguesso "gives his point of view, which is he's done well by his country.
Checole published 5,000 copies of the book, a typical run for his small house. He said it was hard to judge sales after only a month, but "it's not really a hot cake or anything like that."
Nelson Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," has sold millions around the world.
Mandela is 91 and has largely withdrawn from public life. The foundation he established after stepping down as president after
one five-year term in 1999 runs development and charity programs, houses an archive of his political and personal papers, and vigorously defends his reputation.