Not play­ing by the book

Cel­e­brated aca­demic Kole Omo­toso is ac­cus­ing a fel­low pro­fes­sor of hav­ing stolen his copy­right

CityPress - - News - CHARL BLIG­NAUT charl.blig­naut@city­

Most peo­ple know him as “the Yebo Gogo guy” from the ad­vert pro­mot­ing iconic telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany Vo­da­com. But Pro­fes­sor Kole Omo­toso is, in fact, a lead­ing aca­demic and a re­spected nov­el­ist and play­wright. And he is not im­pressed. He al­leges that a se­nior aca­demic and publisher, Pro­fes­sor MM Mboya, has stolen his copy­right and ducked.

The is­sue has to do with The Com­bat, the sec­ond of Omo­toso’s nine nov­els. It was pub­lished in 1972 and re­pub­lished by Pen­guin Clas­sics in 2008.

In 2007, it was trans­lated by Mboya into isiXhosa as Iim­ban­dezelo, and then sud­denly ap­peared on the web­site of Mboya and his wife’s Pre­to­ria firm, Ilitha Pub­lish­ers, where it is on sale to this day for R84.62. It has also ap­peared on the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment cat­a­logue of books avail­able for or­der from schools in the Eastern Cape, tar­get­ing grades 7, 8 and 9.

“Mboya and I met some­time in 2005 or 2006,” Omo­toso, who is the fa­ther of renowned film maker Akin Omo­toso, told City Press from his home­town of Akure in Nige­ria, where he lives when he is not work­ing in South Africa.

“He said he wanted to trans­late it into isiXhosa. I said it was okay. Noth­ing was signed and there was no talk of pub­lish­ing it.”

The mat­ter is now in the hands of Omo­toso’s lawyers. But no one is hav­ing any luck get­ting a re­sponse from Mboya.

“Over a pe­riod of six months I tried to reach him, just [for him] to get me copies of the trans­la­tion for my own records, with­out any suc­cess,” says Omo­toso.

“I ap­proached a few peo­ple who knew him to get him to speak to me about the sale of the book, again with­out suc­cess. I got my lawyers to write to him, as well as the depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion in the Eastern Cape. He did not re­spond to the lawyers.

“I have now de­cided to go pub­lic with this story be­cause I con­sider Pro­fes­sor Mboya’s be­hav­iour in this mat­ter un­fair and un­be­com­ing of a per­son of his sta­tus,” he com­plained.

City Press has seen emails from the Eastern Cape ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment to Omo­toso’s lawyers. A le­gal di­rec­tor ex­plains that the depart­ment does not put ten­ders out for book ti­tles. Rather, pub­lish­ers sub­mit ti­tles for con­sid­er­a­tion. These are then placed in a cat­a­logue that schools or­der from.

“In co­op­er­a­tion with the Pub­lish­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of SA (Pasa), the or­ders are then placed,” the let­ter reads, ad­ding that Pasa gets the books, stores them in a ware­house and dis­trib­utes them, re­ceiv­ing pay­ment from the depart­ment.

The depart­ment also ad­vises Omo­toso’s lawyers to find sales fig­ures of Iim­ban­dezelo from Pasa.

Con­tacted by City Press this week, Pasa’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Mpuka Radinku, says the process does not work that way.

“Pasa is an in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tion. It does not pub­lish or sup­ply books. Nei­ther does Pasa re­ceive or­ders to print and dis­trib­ute books. Pasa sim­ply fa­cil­i­tates the process of ap­point­ing a dis­tri­bu­tion and lo­gis­tics service provider that pro­vides a ware­house for the ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment in or­der for pub­lish­ers to de­liver their books to a central place,” he says, ad­ding that only Ilitha will know the sales fig­ures for Iim­ban­dezelo.

Radinku says Pasa – of which Ilitha Pub­lish­ers is a mem­ber – is also un­aware of the com­plaint. “How­ever, now that you have made us aware, we have for­warded your email to the rel­e­vant mem­ber to re­spond to these al­le­ga­tions.”

Re­peated at­tempts to phone Mboya failed this week as all his numbers were per­pet­u­ally en­gaged. He also failed to re­spond to City Press’ emailed ques­tions. We even tried fax­ing him be­cause, af­ter di­alling his fax num­ber re­peat­edly, a man an­swered and re­sponded to a query as if he was Pro­fes­sor Mboya, but the con­ver­sa­tion then went dead.

Omo­toso, who is work­ing on a mem­oir about a life shared be­tween Nige­ria and South Africa, says: “It is dis­tress­ing be­cause South African pub­lish­ing is better or­gan­ised and re­sourced than what goes on in Nige­ria. Peo­ple just take your book and pi­rate it here. I have found two of my pi­rated books on the streets of Akure. For an aca­demic to do that is a dou­ble dis­ap­point­ment.”

The novel, says Omo­toso, is “a par­ody and para­ble” of the Nige­rian Civil War, in which two friends find them­selves on dif­fer­ent sides of a dis­pute and can­not find a res­o­lu­tion. In the end, they de­cide it is best that they each shoot them­selves dead.

The isiXhosa ver­sion of The Com­bat, writ­ten by Kole Omo­toso AKA ‘the Yebo Gogo guy’ IMI­TATED


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