South African PEN
PEN is a non-political organisation representing writers of the world, defending free-expression and encouraging literature. We live by a strong PEN Charter which champions the ideal of "one humanity living in peace in one world". Is this not an ideal to uphold for all people on all continents, including Africa?
Write! Africa Write! becomes a call for African writers to say what they wish to say and to eschew the divisions of the past in favour of the idea of one humanity living in peace on one continent. Originally PEN stood for Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Editors, and Novelists. A leading voice of literature, PEN now brings together poets, novelists, essayists, historians, playwrights, critics, translators, editors, journalists and screenwriters in a common concern for the craft and art of writing and a commitment to freedom of expression through the written word. Through its 145 Centres in more than 104 countries, International PEN operates on all six continents. The South African PEN Centre (SA PEN) is a branch of International PEN.
Qualification for membership of SA PEN is a recognised position as a published writer (one published literary work, or more), or a person deemed by the committee to be recognised as of sufficient standing, and is by invitation only. The committee is the final judge of any candidate for election to the SA PEN. A candidate for membership is also required to agree to subscribe to the PEN Charter.
PEN SA says unwarranted prison sentences on Swazi editor and lawyer a massive blow to freedom of expression and journalism
PEN South Africa calls on all PEN chapters to join the international outrage and protest that is mounting against the sentencing by the Mbabane High Court in Swaziland of Bheki Makhubu, editor of the independent news magazine, The Nation, and human rights lawyer, Thulani Maseko, to two years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine after being found guilty of ``scandalising the judiciary’’. The sentences were handed down by Judge Mpendulo Simelane on Friday, 25 July.
These men have endured summary arrest and imprisonment for months with their applications for bail being refused for no good reason, a closed court hearing in defiance of the country’s constitution and two trials allegedly for being in contempt of Swaziland’s justice system ending with the harsh jail sentence.
They were arrested in March, this year and their trial was marked by procedural irregularities and violations of their rights, which started with their detention after the closed court hearing on 10 March. Since then they have been unlawfully detained.
In articles in The Nation, the two had criticised the arrest and detention of a government vehicle inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu, in January, this year, after he charged the driver of one of the Supreme Court judges with following an unauthorised route. Judge Simelane argued that writing these articles amounted to interfering with the administration of justice, because the criminal matter was still before court.
However, PEN SA, in common with other media and human rights organisations, maintains that Makhubu and Maseko were legitimately practicing their right to free expression by commenting on the conduct of the judiciary. Their comments certainly did not warrant the contempt of court charges brought against them. Also, Judge Simelane who presided over their case should have been recused because of his personal involvement in the Gwebu case mentioned in the articles.
The second ordeal they faced was their conviction on contempt of court charges on 17 July for separate news articles they published in The Nation criticizing Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Mr Justice Michael Ramodibedi. The Nation and its publisher, Independent Publishers, were fined R50 000 (about US $5 000) each and Makhudu was given a suspended three months’ prison sentence.
PEN SA has noted that the two-year sentence handed down by the court has been interpreted by journalists in Swaziland as intended to send a message to those who seek to criticise the country’s judiciary. National Director Vuyisile Hlatshwayo of the Swaziland Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa has said the judgment “criminalises freedom of expression in Swaziland’’, a claim, he said, ``aptly demonstrated by the scathing tone and language of Judge Simelane.
“In his judgment, he makes it loud and clear that the objective of the sentence is to silence like-minded journalists thinking of questioning the conduct of judicial officers. According to this judgment, judges are a God’s gift to the Swazi Nation who cannot do anything wrong in their administration of justice,” Hlatshwayo said.
PEN SA supports the move by the legal representatives of the two men to appeal the conviction and sentence and demands that the men be released on their own recognisances pending the appeal hearing.
PEN SA believes the appeal will succeed if the hearing is conducted in accordance with the Swaziland 2006 Constitution. It believes the conviction and sentences contravene Sections 24 (1) and (2) of the Constitution which provide for freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of the press and other media. They also contravene Section 24 (2) (c) which protects a fundamental right, expressed as ``freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons)’’.
PEN SA also argues that though Section 24 (3) sets a limitation on those rights ``reasonably required for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons,’’ this does not apply in this instance because court proceedings are held in public and thus editorial criticism of the rulings of a judicial officer in such public circumstances is entirely appropriate. It equates with the overturning of a judgment by a superior court after an appeal hearing which implies criticism of the lower court’s judicial officer and which can, and frequently does, contain actual criticism of the judgment of the lower court.
PEN SA draws the attention of the Swaziland government to the outrage and condemnation expressed by journalists and human rights activists throughout the continent and further afield at the court’s treatment of the two men. There is no doubt that this reaction will influence governments in their attitude to Swaziland, especially the United States which is considering removing the trade preferences it has granted Swaziland, such as AGOA.
PEN SA calls for the immediate release of the two men and for the appeal to be held soon. If that is not successful because of the inability of the judiciary to absorb criticism as is the custom in Western democracies the demand is to free the men on other grounds.
PEN SA notes with shock and alarm that the sentences constitute a massive blow to freedom of expression in Swaziland and will have a chilling impact on the work of journalists in that country, not only local Swaziland journalists but those from South Africa and other foreign countries who enter Swaziland to report on developments there.
Vice-President, South African PEN
Margie Orford is new President of PEN South Africa
Margie Orford, the noted crime novelist and award-winning journalist, has been elected President of PEN South Africa by the institution’s executive committee with effect from June 19. She succeeds Anthony (Tony) Fleischer, who was president for many years and died after a short illness on June 5 at his home in Cape Town.
London-born Margie Orford grew up in Namibia and South Africa. While at the University of Cape Town she was detained by the apartheid government’s police during the State of Emergency in 1985 and wrote her final examinations in prison. She travelled widely and studied under author J M Coetzee, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, worked in publishing in the newly independent Namibia and gravitated into training under the African Publishers’ Network. In 1999 she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship and while in New York she worked on a ground-breaking archival retrieval project, Women Writing Africa: The Southern Volume.
She is renowned for her crime writing but has also produced children’s fiction and school text books. She has also directed films and lives in Cape Town.
Two new members of the executive committee welcomed
Carole Bloch, Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA), a multilingual education organisation affiliated to the University of Cape Town with a focus on transforming approaches to early biliteracy teaching and learning, developing story books, reading materials, and nurturing a love of reading through the development of reading clubs, and Mervyn Sloman, who opened the Book Lounge in Cape Town in December 2007, in the belief that there was space for a bookshop that did things a little differently.
Bloch is the founder and implementing leader of Nal’ibali National Reading – for Enjoyment Campaign and series editor for Best Loved Tales. Among her areas of academic specialisation are early literacy and biliteracy learning and teaching, multilingual reading and promotion and children’s literature development in African settings.
Sloman says that at the core of the Book Lounge is the belief that a bookshop is more than just a retail space in which the product sold happens to be books. A bookshop is a space in which ideas should be exchanged and debated, a space which provides access to writers for readers and vice-versa. PEN South Africa recently held two “PEN dialogue events”, Sexuality and the law: a debate on cultural politics in Africa with South African PEN and The Politics of Publishing and Bookselling at the Book Lounge. In August 2008, PASA (Publishers Association of South Africa) voted the Book Lounge the best independent bookshop in SA (just eight months after opening) and a year later it was voted the best overall bookshop in South Africa.
Sloman also founded Open Book Cape Town in 2011, an international literary festival, which has become an annual event. It has four main goals: to present a truly international literary festival in Cape Town; to promote South African writers to an international audience; to increase the love of books and reading among the youth of Cape Town; and to encourage diverse audiences to attend events at the festival.
ANTHONY CHARLES FLEISCHER: 08/07/1928 – 05/06/2014
Sadly Anthony Flesicher, President of SA PEN, and long-standing champion of PEN, passed away on the 5th June 2014.
One of his favourite refrains was “Write! Africa Write!”. Now we say “Rest! Anthony! Rest in Peace!”
Sympathies to his wife, Dolores, and sons Kevin, Lance and Spencer, their families, and to Anthony’s many friends.
Download press release here
PEN DIALOGUE - SECOND EVENT HELD 19TH MAY 2014
The Politics of Publishing and Bookselling
The second in the 2014 series of SA PEN Dialogues took place at the Book Lounge on the 19 May. "The Politics of Publishing and Bookselling" was a vibrant and thought provoking conversation held under the auspices of South African PEN in collaboration with the Open Book Festival and Cape Town's largest independent book shop, The Book Lounge. These different organisations have a long history together and are delighted to be extending their collaborative events outside of the five-day Open Book Festival and into the rest of the year. Chaired by Margie Orford, executive vice-president of SA PEN, she chatted to Ingeborg Pelser (publisher at Jonathan Ball), celebrated author, Niq Mhlongo, and Mervyn Sloman of The Book Lounge.
MediaWatch the video
PEN DIALOGUE - FIRST EVENT HELD 15TH APRIL 2014
Sexuality and the Law: A Debate on Cultural Politics in Africa with South African PEN
South African PEN, Open Book and the Book Lounge have a long history together and are delighted to be extending their collaborative events outside of the five day Open Book Festival and into the rest of the year.
The first of these events, Sexuality and the Law: A Debate on Cultural Politics in Africa, was held at the Book Lounge on the 15th April.
Over the last year and specifically the last few months, several states in Africa have passed new laws harshly penalising sexual minorities. Uganda’s criminalisation of homosexuality has earned worldwide attention, as has Nigeria’s recent legislation against LGBTI persons. The scope of these laws is extensive, reaching into the living rooms and bedrooms of individuals, prohibiting association and sex acts. More recently, officials in the Congo are considering similar legislation, and a member of parliament in Kenya declared homosexuality as dangerous as terrorism. Closer to home, LGBTI people in South Africa continue to face violence of all kinds, even though the country has legal protections built into the Constitution, marking its importance as a nation on the continent and in the world.
In light of this new wave of legislation and persecution, South African PEN held a conversation between Professor Pierre de Vos, the Claude Leon Foundation Chair in Constitutional Governance at the University of Cape Town and a well-known writer for the ‘Daily Maverick’, and Professor Desiree Lewis, the Head of Department of Women and Gender Studies at University of Western Cape and feminist activist. Dr. Derrick Higginbotham (UCT, English Department), who teaches queer theory and LGBTI literature, chaired the discussion which explored issues of sexuality minorities, human rights, religion, and the law in Africa.
Listen to the debate podcast
South African PEN alarmed at outrageous treatment of Cape Times Editor
SA PEN is profoundly concerned at the summary dismissal last week of acclaimed Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois. Preliminary information is that Dr Iqbal Survé, chairman of the Sekunjalo group which recently bought the Independent Newspapers group, took personal exception to an earlier item in the Cape Times reflecting unfavourably on another Sekunjalo company. Dr Survé contributed a rebuttal duly published in the Cape Times while also reputedly initiating legal action against the editor (Dasnois) and the responsible journalist, Melanie Gosling. Subsequently Ms Dasnois was dismissed on the unrelated ground that the Cape Times had not made the death of Nelson Mandela its front page lead. It would appear that Dr Survé acted impetuously before realizing that the Cape Times had in fact produced a remarkably comprehensive wrap-around supplement about Mr Mandela.
SA PEN has the impression that the new owner of Independent Newspapers has not yet comprehended the treasured and universal concept of editorial independence, a deeply established principle that distinguishes all highly regarded information media, and is fundamental to the success of every democratic open society. SA PEN is already alert to the threats to democracy in South Africa posed by the recently enacted "Secrecy Bill", and we are well aware that "freedom of the press" is under attack in all oppressive regimes around the world. It is particularly unfortunate that this matter has coincided with the passing of Nelson Mandela and the wide publicity given to all that he stood for.
SA PEN also dismisses claims by Survé that the removal of Dasnois was because the paper had suffered a decline in circulation. The circulation decline is similar to that suffered by most newspapers in South Africa and elsewhere in the world as a result of the rise of social media. The Cape Times case was aggravated by the Sekunjalo decision to change another English language daily in Cape Town, the Argus, from an evening to a morning paper in competition with the Cape Times.
The seemingly reckless dismissal of Dasnois is being taken up by the S A National Editors Forum and SA PEN aligns itself with any considered move to help restore the editorial independence of the Cape Times and the job-security of journalists in the Independent Newspapers group.
On being awarded the inaugural PEN International New Voices Award - Masande Ntshanga’s acceptance speech, 11th September 2013, Reykjavick, Iceland:
I'd like to thank my mother and father, the rest of my family and my friends back home. I'd also like to thank my supervisor Imraan Coovadia, who nominated me and still gives me writing advice. I'd like to thank South African PEN, PEN International, and Icelandic PEN especially, for the opportunity to come out to Iceland and be part of Congress. This story is also in dedication to the overlooked spaces in our society, and I feel honoured to represent the one I came from by being named the first New Voice. I'm in deep gratitude to PEN, the judging panel, and everyone who was involved in affording me the opportunity. And of course, once again, to my friends and family back home.
Links from around the web (links open in new window)
http://www.jamesmurua.com/south-african-wins-pen-internationals-inaugural-new-voices-award/. James Murua is a Nairobi based Literature blogger.
Congratulations to Karen Jayes on winning this year's Sunday Times Fiction Prize for her debut novel "For the Mercy of Water" (published by Penguin Books SA). Karen was the winner of the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for her story "Where he will leave his shoes", published in the anthology "New Writing from Africa 2009" (published by Johnson & KingJames).
Chipping Campden Literature Festival 2014, UK – calling authors
The organisers of the Chipping Campden Literature Festival have contacted SA PEN in search of authors who would like to participate in their 2014 and 2015 festivals.
"Chipping Campden is an independent festival relying on private donations and ticket sales. In our festivals we work with Write to Life Freedom from Torture and although the torture survivors are not professional authors their songs and stories are inspirational. Some of them who have taken part in our festival are from African countries. Our theme for 2014 is Conflict/Peace/Resolution and anything on apartheid/ANC would obviously fit. Dates for 2014 are Tuesday 6th to Sunday 11th May."
If you are resident in the UK, or will be visiting the UK in May next year and would like to participate in the festival please contact Deborah at
For further information about the festival go to www.campdenlitfest.co.uk
WHAT SOUTH AFRICA CAN LEARN FROM CHINUA ACHEBE
In South Africa it is difficult to imagine a place or historical moment in which enamel crockery was preferable to hand-crafted Nigerian pottery. Enamel holds a unique set of connotations for us, many of which we would rather forget. But this is what Chinua Achebe recalls from his childhood in his seminal essay, 'The Novelist as Teacher' (1968). He also recalls the reaction of shock and horror at the decision by a local girls' school to perform traditional Nigerian dances instead of the usual, 'genteel' Maypole dance of England. Using these analogies, he makes his point: "I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them."
What can we draw from this essay in the South Africa of 2013? Africa has come a long way since the 1960s when it was written: a time of emancipation for many of its countries – pre-colonial ways of life lost forever, and the struggle with inherited culture and infrastructure only just beginning. Because post-colonial circumstances were so extreme, with inherited crises in the economic, political and social spheres, the question of relevance was a pertinent one for the writer as an emerging figure in modern Africa. Having been released from our own shackles of apartheid as late as the 90s, South Africa is still experiencing the ripple effect of turbulence, and in many ways our writers' struggle for identity during the last twenty years has not been very different to the struggles experienced in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana in the 1960s. We still ask ourselves what the role of the writer, critic and artist is in the new South Africa – what responsibilities do they have to political commentary and to the nation in general? What are the pitfalls – social or aesthetic – of writing for a European and American readership rather than a local one? As J.M. Coetzee wrote through the mouthpiece of his character, Elizabeth Costello: "African novelists may write about Africa, about African experiences, but they seem to me to be glancing over their shoulder all the time they write, at the foreigners who will read them (...) How can you explore a world in all its depth if at the same time you are having to explain it to outsiders?"'
Deftly Achebe has achieved this balance during his rich and wide-spanning career. His decision – a controversial one – to write in English has re-invented the language for African readers and writers and has meant that children across South Africa and elsewhere were introduced to Things Fall Apart at the age of 17, as I was. Despite glamour, international acclaim and more than 40 honorary doctorates from universities across the world, it is the children of Africa who Achebe always had in mind when writing. He reaffirmed the act of writing not as something which comes from an ivory tower — isolated and isolating – but as something public, social, relevant and indeed, necessary. For Achebe, the writer's role was as important as the teacher's – something which, in South Africa, was nearly re-classified as an essential service. "I think it is part of my business as a writer to teach a boy that there is nothing disgraceful about the African weather," he wrote, "and that the palm tree is a fit subject for poetry."
By Anneke Rautenbach
Piece on Pen-International.org
South African PEN supports 'each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail' in event to mark World Day of the Imprisoned Writer
In a moving and rousing event to mark the World Day of the Imprisoned Writer last night, seven South African writers ranging in age from a nineteen-year-old beginner blogger to a distinguished seventy-two-year old poet paid tribute to their imprisoned peers around the world.
Over a hundred people crowded into Kalk Bay Books to hear Beatrice Willoughby, Tom Eaton, Lauren Beukes, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Tim Butcher, Michael Morris and Gus Ferguson lend their voices to silenced writers with whom, in most cases, they shared an exact birth year: Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria, Ericson Acosta of the Philippines, Eskinder Nega of Ethiopia, Dolma Kyab of Tibet, Muharrem Erbey of Turkey, Mamadali Makhmudov of Uzbekistan and Chinese Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo.
The local writers read poetry, prose and prison letters by the imprisoned writers, offering in turn words of reflection, consolation and support.
As always at PEN events, an empty chair symbolised the jailed writer.
'Freedom of expression underlies all other freedoms,' said Margie Orford, executive vice-president of SA PEN, in her opening remarks.
John Maytham, MC for the evening, reminded the audience of the many South African writers who were detained under apartheid, and echoed Orford's warning that writers here could soon risk imprisonment again for telling the truth under the new 'Secrecy Bill'.
Before describing the circumstances of each writer's arrest and detention, Maytham quoted Nadine Gordimer ('Art is on the side of the oppressed') and Alexander Solzhenitsyn: 'For a country to have a great writer is like having a second government. That is why no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.'
Commenting on the fact that Ericson Acosta was arrested for being in possession of hand grenades when all he had on him at the time was his laptop, Tom Eaton said 'This is a very telling detail, because to a regime, a laptop is a hand grenade.'
Michael Morris returned to this fear of the incendiary power of words when he read a list of items confiscated from Liu Xiaobo when the Chinese poet was taken into custody:
1. Notebook computer (IBM model T43), one
2. Notebook computer (Lianxiang model Chaoyang 700 CFe), one
3. Desktop computer (Lianxiang model Jiayue), one
4. Charter 08 request for comments draft (sealed together with the court papers), 7 pages+
'We are lucky that we live in South Africa and can write what we like,' said Lauren Beukes, before reading Chris van Wyk's poem 'In detention' as a reminder of how this has not always been true.
Henrietta Rose-Innes too, chose a South African prison poem, Hugh Lewin's 'Wagon Wheels', with its haunting memory of Eli Weinberg singing for the condemned men on their way to the gallows:
Tim Butcher responded to Eskinder Nega's moving fortitude during his continued imprisonment, and Gus Ferguson poignantly contrasted his life to that of his tortured 'doppelganger' Mamadali Makhmudov.
Beatrice Willoughby offered this simple, line-by-line response to her age-twin, Tal al-Mallouhi of Syria:
The evening was framed by song. Jacques Coetzee and Johann Kotze set the tone for the evening with an unplugged version of Leonard Cohen's 'Bird on a wire', and Emma Rycroft sent everyone home with the feeling that the gathering had, indeed, 'gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing'.
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083 556 9168
Friday, 16th November 2012
19/10/12 - Welkom PEN Afrikaans! Nou kom jare samewerking namens die uitmuntend PEN CHARTER
And congratulations on a major achievement in the name of literature and free-expression. Your focus on your own language will prove to be most enlightened in today's world of troubled diversity - Afrikaans without borders in the digital age!. With a global reach you honour heritage and strengthen principle and purpose of your unique language and culture. Afrikaans sonder grense! Best wishes for your inaugural meeting in Stellensbosch on Saturday 20 October 2012.
It is fitting to now recall that Carles Torner Pifarre of Catalan PEN in Barcelona, kindly invited me to join his working group to draft the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF LINGUISTIC RIGHTS of 1998. This led to the one-page GIRONA MANIFESTO which is now fully supported by International PEN. At my request, former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi all supported the UDLR. At its Congress in South Korea last month, International PEN unanimously welcomed PEN Afrikaans as a fully autonomous PEN Centre.
South African PEN
22/06/12 - Congratulations to SA PEN member Michiel Heyns on being awarded the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize for Lost Ground, a crime story set in the Karoo. Lost Ground explores questions of xenophobia and prejudice, of national, sexual and personal identity, and what it means to be a foreigner wherever you go. This is Michiel’s second Sunday Times Fiction Prize win as he shared the award with Marlene van Niekerk back in 2007 for his translation of her novel Agaat.
"In this clip, President and Executive Vice President of South African PEN talk briefly to Congress about the the past and the future. I would like to add that Carles Torner of Catalan PEN was largely rsponsible for drafting the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights. Carles asked me to join his working group some years ago and I happily agreed. I am also happy to add that I in turn asked South Africans Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi to support the UDLR in principle. They all agreed. The Girona Manifesto, also prepared by Catalan PEN, is a magnificent summary of linguistic principle, matching our revered PEN Charter. It is endorsed by International PEN. Margie Orford talks convincingly about the need for PEN to promote not only free expression and literature but also LITERACY. South Africa has 11 official languages, the African continent more than 1000.
Please note the book AFRICAN PENS 2011 is the last of a series. It is also a privilege to record that 12 authors whose work appeared in our PEN series of 10 editions, have gone on to publish their own literary titles.
Read! Africa Read! Write! Africa Write!
Engadinwa nangomuso! Pula! Khotso!
South African PEN"
Visit Anthony Fleischer's Website