I am proud to call Patric Tariq Mellet my friend, and I consider his book, The Lie of 1652, to be one of the most important to have been published since the end of Apartheid. It has been selling exceptionally well and he has been interviewed many times a day, busily responding to this wonderful reception.
Of course there have been criticisms, but none shocked me more than the “review” that Dan Sleigh wrote in Die Burger, and Afrikaans daily. They seemed to slip right back into Apartheid mode by publishing this personal tirade, three-quarters of a page long. Readers were told that they would be reading the book at their own risk, and that it was not properly researched and full of errors. For example, Sleigh contested the fact that Van Riebeeck had been found guilty in a court of law in The Netherlands of trading for his own profit while based in what is now Vietnam. This was despite the clear and excellent sources given by Tariq, and it is simply untrue. This is just one example of his distortions.
Our mutual friend, Anita Marshall, was indignant and said we should write and defend him. I sent her the defence Tariq had written himself, and she wrily remarked, “Oh, he doesn’t need us!” But when I saw Tariq, he said that he would appreciate our writing because the letters responding to Sleigh were still coming in, and it was better if not only the author defended the book.
So, this is what I sent the editor (English translation of the body of the letter below).
In verband met Dan Sleigh se resensie en die briewe oor Patric Tariq Mellet se boek The Lie of 1652, moet ek erken dat ek geskok is. Die Burger het die resensie heeltemaal te vining gepubliseer, sonder om die feite na te gaan. Dit is juis wat Sleigh Mellet van beskuldig, en ‘n vinnige nagaan van die punte wat Sleigh gemaak het, sou die tekortkominge blootgelê het.
Die boek is besonder goed nagevors. Die “endnotes” – meer as 500 van hulle – haal ‘n indrukwekkende verskeidenheid bronne aan. Tafelberg Uitgewers het goed geweet dat hierdie boek omstrede sou wees en het daarom gesorg dat hulle professionele inhuis historikus tevrede was met die akademiese standaard wat gehandhaaf is.
In die boek sê Mellet herhaaldelik dat lesers aangemoedig word om self navorsing te doen en om hulle eie menings te vorm, maar wat ons van Sleigh gekry het was ‘n persoonlike aanval ter beskerming van sy gevestigde belange. Anders as Sleigh se boek, Islands, is Mellet s’n nie ‘n roman nie, maar ernstige historiese nie-fiksie. Diegene wat hom van “wensdenkery en valse beelde” verskuldig moet dié eerder by Sleigh gaan soek, soos hy self al erken het.
Mellet se motief is om die historiese rekord te verbreed en reg te stel, soos dit enige ernstige narvorser betaam. Sleigh se motief was om dit te verhinder deur die hele boek af te skryf. Ek verstaan dit. Ek is ook grootgemaak om trots te wees op wat the Hollanders in die sewentiende eeuse Kaap volbring het. Dit is bitter moeilik om te moet erken dat dit nie alles gebeur het soos wat ons geleer is nie. Vandag is ek trots op die Afrikaners wat sterk en eerlik en dapper genoeg is om die nuwe inligting ten minste te oorweeg en te ondersoek.
In connection with the review of and letters about Patric Tariq Mellet’s book, The Lie of 1652, I must confess that I was shocked. Die Burger published the review and letters about much too hastily, without checking the facts. This is just what Sleigh accuses Mellet of, and a quick check of the points raised by Sleigh would have revealed the shortcomings.
The book is well researched. The endnotes – more than 500 of them – reference an impressive selection of sources. Tafelberg Publishers were well aware that this book would be controversial, and therefore saw to it that their professional inhouse historian was satisfied with the academic standards.
In the book, Mellet repeatedly encourages readers to do their own research and form their own opinions, but what we got from Sleigh was a personal attack in defence of his vested interests. Unlike Sleigh’s book, Islands, Mellet’s is not a novel, but serious historical non-fiction. Those who accuse him of wishful thinking and false images, should rather go and look for these in Sleigh’s writing, as he has already admitted that he sometimes modifies facts for his readers’ sakes.
Mellet’s motive is to expand and correct the the historical record, as it is the motive of any serious researcher. Sleigh’s motive was to prevent this by writing off the entire book. I understand this. I was also brought up to be proud of what the Dutch achieved in the seventeenth century Cape. It is extremely difficult to have to concede that things did not happen exactly as we were taught. However, today I am proud of the Afrikaners who are strong and honest and brave enough at least to consider and investigate the new information.