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.
RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS WELCOME THE DECISION OF AFRICAN COURT TO STRIKE DOWN BURKINA FASO’S CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAW AND CALL ON AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS TO REPEAL SIMILAR LAWS
Media and human rights organisations are delighted with today’s decision of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the case of Konaté v Burkina Faso to rule that imprisonment for defamation violates the right to freedom of expression and that criminal defamation laws should only be used in restricted circumstances.
The highest court in Africa has sent a strong message that governments may not use severe criminal penalties to stifle public debate and reporting on matters of public interest.
“This is a landmark decision that will change the free expression landscape on the African Continent. The decision will not only give impetus to the continent-wide campaign to decriminalise defamation but will also pave the way for the decriminalisation of similar laws such as insult laws and publication of false news” said Adv Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.
In March 2014, 18 non-governmental organisations intervened as ‘friends of the court’ in the Konaté case at the African Court in Arusha, Tanzania, to address growing concerns over the use of criminal defamation laws to censor journalists and others in Africa.
In 2012 Issa Lohé Konaté, the editor of the Burkina Faso-based weekly L’Ouragan, was sentenced to 12 months in prison and fined 4 000 000 CFA francs (6 000 Euros). Konaté was convicted of defaming Burkinabé State Prosecutor, Placide Nikiéma, after he published two articles raising questions about alleged abuse of power by the prosecutor’s office, particularly in the handling of a high-profile case of currency counterfeiting.
The group argued that criminal defamation and insult laws are incompatible with freedom of expression and severely undermine the democratic rights of the media and concerned citizens to hold their governments to account. Governments routinely use these laws to silence critical voices and to deprive the public of information about the misconduct of officials. Journalists, lawyers and activists who should be free to carry out their work without fear are instead vilified and criminalised under these laws. The systematic denial of freedom of expression leads countries down a slippery slope towards impunity and authoritarianism. A clear nexus links censorship to bad governance. A democratic society cannot function without an active commitment to freedom of expression.
Burkina Faso’s criminal defamation laws, like those in many African countries, are a relic of colonialism. These laws are incompatible with an independent, democratic Africa. Approximately 95% of the countries in the world have criminal libel laws. In 2013, 211 journalists were imprisoned for carrying out their work. African countries are amongst the worst offenders in using criminal defamation laws to fine and imprison journalists.
For more information about the case, please contact the following spokespersons:
Simon Delaney, Delaney Attorneys, South Africa
Tel no: +27 83 397 0057, Email:
Ginna Anderson, American Bar Association, United States
Tel no: +1 202 442 3438, Email:
Alison Meston, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, France
Tel no: +33 1 47 42 85 00, Email:
Donald Deya, Pan African Lawyers Union, Tanzania
Tel no: +255 787 066 888, Email:
The organisations that intervened as friends of the court in the Konaté case are:
Centre for Human Rights: Prof Frans Viljoen, Director:
Malawi PEN: Alfred Msadala, President:
Pan Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (Pan Africa HRD-Net): Joseph Bikanda, Coordinator:
Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU): Donald Deya, Chief Executive Officer:
PEN Algeria: Mohamed Magani:
PEN International: Ann Harrison, Director, Writers in Prison Committee:
PEN Nigeria Centre: Tade Ipadeola, President:
PEN Sierra Leone: Mohamed Sheriff:
Media Institute of Southern Africa: Zoé Titus, Regional Director:
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC): Nicole Fritz, Deputy Director:
PEN South Africa: Deborah Horn-Botha:
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA): Alison Meston, Director Press Freedom:
PEN South Africa deeply alarmed at the breakdown of democracy in Parliament
PEN South Africa, part of an international organisation which represents writers, editors and translators, and whose members have pledged themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression or censorship but to uphold freedom of the press, is deeply alarmed at the breakdown in Parliamentary democracy in Cape Town on November 13 when the Speaker lost control of the institution, members of Parliament were assaulted by a squad of riot police who had strong-armed their way into the House without proper authorization and videos of the proceedings were censored.
PEN South Africa, which believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative, condemns the manner in which attempts were made by the Speaker to prevent MPs from raising issues according to a programme that had been agreed earlier between the political parties and followed that up by trying to order MPs to leave the House.
PEN South Africa interprets the Speaker’s conduct in trying to stop MPs from raising their issues – even though it was a filibustering move -- as an attempt to prevent the people of South Africa being able to observe the temper and dissatisfaction of a large group of MPs at the way parliamentary affairs were being conducted – in particular, the presentation of a one-sided finding of an ad hoc committee that was supposed to investigate the reports relating to the scandal of the so-called ``security upgrades’’ of President Jacob Zuma’s estate at Nkandla.
The censorship was compounded by the serious manipulation of the TV reporting of the proceedings in Parliament where the camera pictures were cut thus preventing citizens of the country from viewing the actual proceedings in the House, the unruliness of MPs and alleged assaults by police. PEN South Africa points out that the manipulation and censoring of Parliament’s TV broadcasts has occurred on more than one occasion in recent weeks.
PEN SA is deeply alarmed that these are deliberate and serious inroads on freedom of expression and transparency, core values which form the basis of our constitutional democracy.
Finally, the violent conduct of the police was more befitting of a police state than a democracy. It appears that no one in authority in Parliament such as the Speaker formally requested the police to enter the House. Several MPs, conscious of the violation of the constitutional order and the sanctity of Parliament, tried to block them and were assaulted. Some of the MPs sustained injuries.
A dark day indeed for South Africa and its democratic order and an ominous portend of a government favouring censorship and ranged against transparency.
Margie Orford (President, PEN South Africa), Mandla Langa and Raymond Louw (Vice Presidents, PEN South Africa)
Day of the Imprisoned Writer - 15th November 2014. SA PEN celebrates Cameroonian writer Enoh Meyomesse
The 15th of November marks PEN International’s 33rd anniversary of the annual Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an international day that recognises writers who have suffered persecution as a result of exercising their right to freedom of expression. http://www.pen-international.org/
‘November 15 is a day of action and acknowledgement,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. ‘It is PEN’s way of saying to all of our 900 imprisoned, harassed, murdered and disappeared writers: you are not silenced. You are not forgotten. We stand with you and fight for you.’
South Africans have an intimate knowledge of violence of censorship, the detention of writers and the silence that ensues. On this day we celebrate the Cameroonian writer, Enoh Meyomesse, one of the five cases selected this year to highlight the fate of increasing numbers of writers around the world.
President, PEN South Africa
WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER
15 NOVEMBER 2014
Poet, writer, historian, political activist and president of the National Association of Cameroonian Writers
“why do you treat me like this
simply because I don’t
see things your way
have you not freed words
have you not freed spirits
have you not freed souls
have you not freed tongues
Oh leaders of this regime
custodians of my people’s destiny
why do you treat me like this
simply because I don’t
see things your way”
‘Why do you treat me like this’ by Enoh Meyomesse, translated by Dick Jones
Cameroonian poet, Dieudonné Enoh Meyomesse, is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for alleged complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. It has now been 15 months since Meyomesse’s lawyers succeeded in having his case referred to a civil court for appeal. His appeal was expected to be heard on 20 June 2013 but the hearing was postponed. At least 11 further hearings have been postponed due to various legal technicalities. He is currently being held in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, where conditions are extremely poor. Meyomesse suffers from several medical conditions brought on by his treatment in prison, including a debilitating eye condition and a gastrointestinal infection. PEN International believes that the charges against Meyomesse are politically motivated and that his imprisonment is linked to his writings critical of the government and his political activism and thus calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Arrested on 22 November 2011 at Nsimalen International Airport in Yaoundé on the return leg of a trip to Singapore, Meyomesse was charged, alongside three other men, with 1) attempting to organise a coup 2) possessing a firearm 3) aggravated theft. The day after his arrest, Meyomesse was sent to a prison in Bertoua (Eastern Province), where he was held in solitary confinement – and complete darkness – for 30 days.
On 27 December 2012, having already spent 13 months in prison, Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 200,000 CFA (approx. US$418) for supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. His three co-defendants were reportedly sentenced to terms of between two and nine years in prison. No witnesses or evidence were presented during the trial, and he was not allowed to testify in his own defence. According to Meyomesse, he was sentenced “without any proof of wrong-doing on my part, without any witnesses, without any complainants, and more than that, after having been tortured during 30 days by an officer of the military.”
It has now been 15 months since Meyomesse’s lawyers succeeded in having his case referred to a civil court for appeal. His appeal was expected to be heard on 20 June 2013 but the hearing was postponed. At least 12 further hearings have been postponed due to various legal technicalities, most recently on 16 October. The latest date set for the hearing is 20 November 2014; however it remains to be seen whether it will actually take place.
Meyomesse is currently being held in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, where conditions are extremely poor with inmates receiving only one meal a day.
Because of his time held in solitary confinement in total darkness in Bertoua police station in the first month of his confinement, Meyomesse is dealing with a debilitating eye condition that could leave him blind. In addition, he has been hospitalised on a number of occasions over the course of his imprisonment. In May 2014 Meyomesse was moved to the prison infirmary to be treated for malaria and the gastrointestinal infection amoebiasis. Most recently, he was admitted to a military hospital on 9 September, after falling unconscious in his cell for the third time in recent months. He was immediately returned to prison following treatment and his request for bail was denied by the court. Doctors advised that he be placed on a strict diet and should only drink mineral water, which is difficult for him to follow, given prison conditions in Cameroon. He continues to receive ad hoc treatment for amoebiasis.
Prior to his arrest, Meyomesse had published more than 15 books, including novels, essays and works on political and cultural themes. His first book was a collection of poems. In 2010, he published Le massacre de Messa en 1955 (The Massacre of Messa in 1955) and the tract Discours sur le tribalisme (A Discussion on Tribalism), in which he discusses the destructive effects of tribalism in Africa politics. Meyomesse attempted to run as a presidential candidate in the election on 9 October 2011, but was denied registration.
Despite all obstacles, Meyomesse continues to publish his works. In November 2012 Meyomesse self-published a powerful collection of poetry written whilst in detention, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui (Les Editions de Kamerun, November 2012). PEN Centres have been integral to the dissemination of his most recent works: in late 2013 English PEN published their crowd-sourced translation of Poème Carcéral, while Austrian PEN published a German translation of his poems. Keep up-to-date with Meyomesse’s writings and experiences by visiting his website: www.enohmeyomesse.net
Enoh Meyomesse was the recipient of the 2012 Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression Award. “we, people and intellectuals from this part of the world called Africa, are struggling for democracy to become a reality in our lands. It is a difficult struggle, but a struggle in which we are fully engaged. In that struggle, we face intimidations of all sort, and among them, multiple incarcerations. Rulers use the most ideal and least threatening alibi for them, the accusation of having committed a common crime, to silence us, dissidents”. Excerpt from Enoh Meyomesse’s acceptance speech for the 2012 Oxfam Novib/ PEN Freedom of Expression Award
“[English PEN] have proven to me that, while my biological family has abandoned me, there exists another family – perhaps even more important – a literary family, a family of novelists and poets like me, which is always beside me and will never abandon me.” Quote from letter by Enoh Meyomesse
If the government plan of one textbook per subject goes ahead, among other things, the difficult work to create and inspire the reading of children's literature in African languages and English will be significantly harmed. The sale of textbooks into the education system is what makes money for publishers, and much of the tiny body of African language literature for children that is published, happens 'off the back' of these profits. Many publishers have already suffered huge losses, or have gone under with the reduction to eight books per subject a few years ago. So publishing children's literature, already a 'risk' for publishers - and considered 'supplementary' rather than crucial to a good education, will become perceived as even more of a luxury than it already is. And the already print-poor-literacy-poor cycle will be reinforced by fewer books for children from communities with poor or non-existent library facilities - meaning radically reduced access to content of all kinds. This will be the reality for the majority of children in South Africa. The proposal poses a real threat to attempts to build democratic educational opportunities for all. Please read the article below by Kate McCallum and give support to the campaign.
Dr. Carole Bloch
SA PEN Executive Committee Member / Director – PRAESA
Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) is an independent research and development unit affiliated with the University of Cape Town. www.praesa.org.sa
& & & &
More damage predicted for educational outcomes: the case against approving only one textbook
By Kate McCallum, 08/11/2014
A recent proposal by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is to do away with the national catalogue of eight books per subject per grade, and to approve only one book, is predicted to damage further South Africa’s already poor educational outcomes.
The draft National Policy for the Provisioning and Management of Learning and Teaching Support Materials (LTSM) has two good aspects to it. The first is the excellent intention to achieve universal provision by providing each student with a textbook per subject per grade, i.e. to supply a Minimum School Bag. The second is to ensure that books are kept by schools for five years, to ensure that universal provision is attainable within the limits of the annual budget for LTSM. However, the proposal to remove all choice of books by schools from a national catalogue of eight approved titles and to have only a single approved textbook is a retrogressive step.
One size does not fit all. A single textbook will not meet the widely differing needs of the South African school population. Students aiming at university entrance need books that cover the subject comprehensively, teach higher order skills, and prepare them for university entrance. At the other end of the spectrum, struggling students in poorly resourced schools, learning through a medium of instruction that is not their home language, require a more basic coverage of content and significant language support. Students in additive bilingualism classrooms require a different language approach altogether. A book that meets the needs of the top 30% of students will be inappropriate for the remaining 70%; if it is aimed at the lower-performing 50%, it will not meet the needs of the higher-performing 50%, who will be disadvantaged. Indeed, a paper on American states which have a single approved textbook system, note that the system has resulted in a dumbing down of textbooks to the lowest common denominator.
To read the rest of the article go to
Mandla Langa new Executive VP of PEN South Africa
We are delighted to announce that Mandla Langa is now Executive Vice President of PEN South Africa, having served as a board member since June 2011.
Langa is a distinguished novelist. He was born in Durban and educated at the University of Fort Hare. He went into exile in 1976 and his first novel, The Tenderness of Blood, was published in 1987. The Lost Colours of the Chameleon, won the 2009Commonwealth Writers Prize (Best Book in Africa). His most recent novel is The Textures of Shadows, a riveting account of the bloody birth of the new South Africa.
In 2007, Langa received South Africa’s National Order of Ikhamanga (Silver) for literary, journalistic and cultural achievements, the citation specifying his "excellent contribution to the struggle against apartheid, achievements in the field of literature and journalism and contributing to post-apartheid South Africa through serving in different institutions"
PEN South Africa is honoured to have so fine writer with a lifelong commitment to freedom of expression and human rights in an executive position.
Mandla steps into Margie Orford’s shoes following Orford’s recent appointment as President of PEN South Africa. Mandla says: “I am humbled by the appointment as Executive Vice-President of PEN South Africa. I hope to avail myself for service and thank our President, Margie Orford for showing trust in me.”
President, PEN South Africa
Margie Orford elected to board of PEN International
Award-winning journalist and acclaimed South African writer Margie Orford has been elected to the international board of PEN International, a 10-person body that represents authors, poets, editors and other writers in more than 100 countries around the world. Orford, who is President of the South African PEN Centre, was nominated by a delegate from Denmark, seconded by a delegate from Mexico, and was elected at the PEN International Congress at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan earlier this month by what a delegate later described as ``a great vote’’.
Orford joined SA PEN in June 2006 and was appointed Executive Vice President in 2010 and President in June this year following the death of President Anthony Fleischer, author and former General Manager of SA Associated Newspapers (now the Times Media Group).
Orford is a celebrated crime writer. Her novels have been translated into nine languages and include the Clare Hart series of crime thrillers. She obtained a BA Hons degree at the University of Cape Town, writing her final examinations while in prison after having being detained as a student activist in the State of Emergency of 1985.
After travelling widely, she studied under the South African writer, J.M. Coetzee, and worked in publishing in the newly-independent Namibia, where she became involved in training through 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 published by the Feminist Press.
As a journalist, Orford wrote for The Guardian, the Observer and The Telegraph in Britain and for the Mail & Guardian, The Sunday Times and The Cape Times in South Africa. She has published children’s books, academic books, school text books and non-fiction, including a book on climate change, on rural development in South Africa, and a history of the anti-apartheid group, The Black Sash. Her publications include:
Water Music (Oshun Books, 2013), The Magic Fish (2012),Gallows Hill (Oshun Books, 2011),The Little Red Hen (2011), Daddy's Girl (Oshun Books, 2009), Like Clockwork (Oshun Books, 2006, Fabulously 40 And Beyond: Coming Into Your Power An Embracing Change (2006), Busi's Big Idea (2006), Blood Rose (2006), Dancing Queen (2004), Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism: Stories from the Developing World (2004), Rural Voice: The Social Change Assistance Trust, 1984-2004, Working in South Africa (David Philip, 2004).
Orford follows the South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer who was appointed Vice President of PEN International, a position she held until her death.
South African PEN Centre Vice President, Dr. Raymond Louw, said he is delighted that as a member of the influential international board of PEN Margie Orford will be able to promote the interests of writers and editors in the sub-continent of Africa where they struggle to meet the many and diverse challenges posed not only by the social and geographical environments but by the frequently severe inroads of governments on their freedoms. She has already made a powerful impact in her short period at PEN International congresses, the latest being at the congress this month where she invoked the World Association of Newspapers Declaration of Table Mountain calling for countries to scrap criminal defamation and ``insult’’ laws as well as other restrictions on the press and writers. This resulted in the congress passing a resolution making a similar call on world nations. The timing is particularly appropriate for South Africa because the appeal by a former Sowetan journalist, Cecil Motsepe, against a conviction for criminal defamation is currently being heard in the Gauteng High Court.
PEN SOUTH AFRICA ALARMED AT ARREST OF BOTSWANA EDITOR
PEN South Africa expresses alarm at the arrest of Outsa Mokone, the editor of the Sunday Standard in Botswana, and its alarm is deepened by the report by the Committee to Protect journalists that Mokone’s senior reporter, Edgar Tsimane, has fled Botswana in fear of his life and has sought and received asylum from the South African government.
The concern is heightened by the fact that these latest reports follow within days of the arrest of an editor and a human rights lawyer in Swaziland and the murder of two American journalists by Islamic State jihardi in the Middle East.
Botswanan newspapers reported that police arrested Mokone on September 8 when he could not account for the whereabouts of Tsimane, who had written a story two weeks earlier claiming that Botswana President Ian Khama was involved in an unreported traffic accident. Victor Baatweng, a financial reporter at The Telegraph, a sister publication to the Sunday Standard, later reported that Tsimane had applied for, and received, asylum from South Africa, though there is now uncertainty whether the application was received by the South African authorities.
The deeply alarming issue is that Baatweng claimed Tsimane applied for asylum after being warned by his brother, who works for Botswana's intelligence unit, that his reporting was putting his life and that of his family, in danger.
Tsimane’s report was published on August 22 under the headline “President hit in car accident while driving alone at night”. It claimed that the President had not reported the accident. Both Mokone and Tsimane have been charged with sedition. Mokone was reported to have questioned Tsimane about the sources of his information and accepted that they were credible and reliable.
PEN South Africa regards the charges against the journalists as lacking credibility and likely to have a chilling effect on writers and journalists in Botswana and southern Africa generally, especially the report that Tsimane and his family were in danger. PEN South Africa calls for Mokone’s release and for a full investigation into the allegations that Tsimane had been informed that he and his family were in danger of serious harm.
PEN South Africa calls on the South African authorities to provide clarity on whether Tsimane applied for and was granted asylum and whether any protest has been made to the Botswana government over the treatment of the journalists and the contravention of media freedom principles in the SA Constitution and codes of practice accepted by the SADC and Botswana.
PEN South Africa is concerned that this attack on journalists to prevent them from publishing information about matters of public interest is not only a contravention of constitutional principles upholding the freedom of the press and freedom of expression but is also a threat to writers and authors exercising their rights to freedom of expression as individuals without the financial backing of newspaper publishers.
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'.
For further enquiries contact:
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