Bheki Makhubu Delivers the 2015 Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture
12 Nov 2015
Swaziland journalist and editor Bheki Makhubu was in South Africa this week to deliver the Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture at Wits University. Bheki has been a journalist for 27 years and was jailed in March 2014 on charges of contempt of court following the publication of articles criticising the judicial system. He was released in July of this year.
While he was in South Africa Bheki was interviewed on SAFM by Ashraf Garda, along with PEN SA Vice-President Raymond Louw, about media freedom in Africa. Listen to a podcast of the interview: >
Click here to listen to the podcast on SAFM
PEN South Africa board member Nooshin Erfani introduced Bheki at the Carlos Cardoso Memorial Lecture, which PEN SA was a partner of, and had the following to say:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Nooshin Erfani and I run the Wits Justice Project, a programme of the Wits Journalism department. I am also a member of PEN South Africa and serve on its board, and it is on PEN’s behalf that I speak here this evening.
PEN South Africa is a writers’ group that works to defend freedom of expression, and that is why it is particularly fitting for us to be involved with this year’s Carlos Cardoso Memorial lecture.
Freedom of expression and the right of journalists to do their jobs without fear of imprisonment – or worse – is core to what we work to defend. If you would like to become a member or supporter of our Centre please visit pensouthafrica.co.za for more information.
When Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko were arrested in March last year for criticising the judiciary, PEN South Africa spoke out about this violation of their freedom of expression and called on the Swaziland government to release them. We were therefore delighted with their acquittal and release in June 2015 – after 447 days in prison – and very pleased to have Bheki here today to deliver this Memorial Lecture.
PEN South Africa, along with fellow PEN Centres on the continent and PEN International, continue to campaign to have Criminal Defamation and Insult laws repealed.
Bheki Makhubu has been a journalist for 27 years and is a columnist and Editor-in-Chief of The Nation, which is widely considered the sole independent newspaper in Swaziland. He started out as a sports reporter at the Times of Swaziland and rose to become editor of The Times’ Sunday edition in 1994. In 1999 he was fired from his job and arrested and charged with criminal defamation for publishing an article critical of King Mswati. Charges were, however, later dropped.
He joined The Nation magazine, which was a start-up publication but has grown over the years in circulation and stature as a bastion of free speech in Swaziland.
After his release in July, he was offered column space in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian newspaper, where he writes once a month. Bheki is married to Fikile and they have four children.
I had the fortune to speak to Bheki at length earlier this week, and I learnt a few things that I think help summarize him for you: His primary school teacher taught him the old saying that has became his own motto: “tell the truth and shame the devil”; and he is a true gentleman. And that is why I consider it a privilege to introduce him to you tonight, and an honour to ask him to come to the podium to deliver his lecture.
In the early ’90s, as a young reporter at The Times of Swaziland, I heard about a news sheet that was being published and distributed through the fax machine. While I could not get my head around this innovation, among the more senior journalists in Swaziland at the time the buzzword was that it was a brilliant idea, the latest trend in publishing technology. There was much excitement about it.
I suspect, though, that the excitement was because, for Swazi journalists who were poorly paid and working under very tough, hostile conditions in an extremely small media environment, it was an idea which, properly cultivated and adopted in my home country, could offer them an alternative means of employment.