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Mandela’s Last Years, written by retired military doctor Vejay Ramlakan, has become sought after since its publisher Penguin Random House SA withdrew it from the shelves in July. Ramlakan was the head of the medical team that looked after Nelson Mandela until his death in 2013. The withdrawing and pulping of a book is a huge expense for a publisher, as well as a source of some embarrassment. So, why did the publisher do it? Soon after the book was published, members of the Mandela family, led by the former president’s widow Graça Machel, threatened legal action. The basis for any action wasn’t clear, although it was probably linked to defamation. The book, Machel argued, constituted "an assault on the trust and dignity" of her late husband. Soon afterwards, Ramlakan’s employer, the South African National Defence Force, distanced itself from the book, suggesting it may have contravened doctor-patient confidentiality. Penguin SA bowed to this pressure and withdrew the book, stating th...

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