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Pretoria - Springbok rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen is going to court to keep the book Joost & Amor, Behind the Headlines off the shelves, claiming the author is “merely seeking sensation from the circumstances of a dying man”.
On Tuesday, he will turn to the Pretoria High Court to ask for an urgent order stopping publication of the book, written by former entertainment journalist Gavin Prins.
The book, published by Random House Struik Ltd, is due to be distributed to book shops early in October.
Joost, who suffers from motor neuron disease (MND), said in court papers that not only would the book infringe on his rights to privacy and human dignity, but also on his right to life.
“It is a known fact that stressful situations have an adverse effect on a person suffering from MND. In short, it hastens his decline and speeds up his eventual demise,” Joost said.
Prins, deputy editor at Heat magazine, and the publishers refused to give Joost an undertaking they would not publish the book.
The former Blue Bulls player said he had no choice but to turn to court as he knew neither when the book would be published nor what it would contain. He said he only recently became aware of the book.
He had spoken to Prins many times over the years about his private life, Joost said. Just before he was admitted to a clinic for his condition three months ago, Prins told him he was writing a book, but Joost left the matter there.
“I was in the clinic for 11 weeks, focusing on my health and my fight against my disease and to stay alive. The last thing that went through my mind was to ensure that Prins is not writing a book about me.”
When he was discharged, Joost had to ensure his affairs and those of the J9 Foundation were in order. He said he heard only on September 6 the book had gone to print.
Joost set out in court papers how MND affected a person, especially when under stress. He said stress would have an adverse effect on his health and survival.
In the light of his present circumstances with an estranged wife and two young children, Joost said, the book created tension in his life. “The effect is that I will have fewer days with my children… A book about my private life and that of my family will definitely shorten my life expectancy.”
Joost said he “cringed” at the thought of the marketing hype surrounding the book and the battering he and his family would endure. “It is not in the public interest to read the story of my life at this stage. They already read everything they need to know.”
Joost, who read a snippet of the book in a recent magazine, said there were also factual inaccuracies such as his allegedly telling Amor’s mother, Delyse Vittone, that he once threatened to hurl a petrol bomb at Prins’s home. “After I have passed away, they will able to publish anything they want… ”
Joost’s neurologist also submitted a letter, stating that any stress could make a neurological disease much worse.
In defending the action, Prins said the romantic lives of celebrity couples like Joost and his entertainer wife Amor Vittone formed an important part of social news and it was his right to write about it. He did not doubt that Joost was seriously ill, but said he noted earlier this month that Joost made public claims that he was now healthy again. Prins said this proved that Joost made everything about his life public.
“If he is truly concerned that the book may cause him dangerous stress, he can avoid this by not reading the book and by declining to discuss the book with anyone.”
Prins said 10 000 copies were being printed and were due to be released early next month. Extracts had also been published in some magazines. He said Joost had been aware of the book since late last year and Amor had given it her blessing. He had even interviewed her on issues in the book.
He met Joost recently and he was accused of trying to make money out of him by writing the book. Prins said he was asked to donate the proceeds to the J9 Foundation. “His allegation that a focus on him and his family in the book will distress him is simply irreconcilable with the fact that he regularly places himself, his family, and his story in the media.”
What the book says:
Prins, in an affidavit opposing Van der Westhuizen’s application to stop it hitting the shelves, said the book sets out many of the events which took place before, during and after the publication of the video.
It also records Van der Westhuizen’s public admission that he lied regarding the video, as well as Amor Vittone’s response to it.
Prins said he had a close acquaintance with the couple over the past decade. He went to their home, had interviews with them and attended parties at their house.
He describes one such “wine-filled” dinner party in his book, which he said resulted in headaches all round the following morning, as well as an argument between the former rugby player and singer Kurt Darren at the Springbok’s home.
The book, Joost & Amor, Behind the Headlines, is described as follows: “The celebrated Springbok rugby hero Joost van der Westhuizen and his wife, the singer Amor Vittone, were a glamorous couple who captured the imagination of many South Africans. Known as their country’s own Posh and Becks, they were blessed with success, fame, public adulation and an apparently happy marriage. Until a shock report appeared on the front page of a local Sunday newspaper about a sex video…
“In this book, well-known journalist and a personal friend and confidant of the Van der Westhuizens, Gavin Prins, recounts the story behind the story – one that has never been published before. Prins, who broke the sex video scandal on the front page of Rapport, chronicles how a simple farm boy who became a national hero met the woman of his dreams and married her, only to fall from grace in the most publicly humiliating way possible.
“With his confession came a measure of redemption – until he was brought to his knees by a life-threatening illness… Hard-hitting, often shocking but ultimately uplifting, this is the true story behind the sensational headlines that have dogged South Africa’s most high-profile couple.”