End of Year Letter 2016 from PEN SA President Margie Orford

15 Dec 2016
End of Year Letter 2016 from PEN SA President Margie Orford

Dear Friends

2016 has been a turbulent year in South Africa and in the world. This has meant that PEN South Africa, like our sister PEN centres around the world, has been very busy. Do read here about all the things we have been doing.

Political turbulence – of the kind caused by the reactionary and dangerous politics of the likes of Turkey’s Erdogan, Russia’s Putin and the United States’ Trump have seen free expression and a free press come under sustained attack. It does not look like 2017 will ease up. Writers in South Africa and around the world will need to be both creative and vigilant if we are to speak truth to power – never more important in an this era of fake news – and if we are to imagine other ways of being. Ways that cherish values of inclusion, tolerance, diversity and attentiveness to the voices and wishes of others.

This year saw PEN South Africa expand our remit in interesting ways. We commissioned research to take the pulse of free expression in South Africa. This in a year in which the political establishment has been rocked by the numerous scandals that swirl around President Zuma. This work will be published soon and it is also the basis of submission we made for the Universal Periodic Review on human rights in South Africa.

PEN South Africa has hosted some important and ongoing discussions. The first was the series of wonderful essays in response to the University of Cape Town’s disinvitation of Flemming Rose. These essays reveal the range of complex and nuanced thinking around the nature of free expression in a complicated and transforming society. They are well worth revisiting as we brace ourselves for 2017.

We hosted an important conversation about the #FeesMustFall movement and the role of the press in that – research and a conversation that will be invaluable in the coming years as South Africans try to address the inequalities of education and access.

There has also been some marvelous literature. Despite or perhaps because of the complexity of our society, there have been so many fabulous books! Fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Writers – established and new – have responded to the world around them with imagination, humour, horror and beauty. Writers and publishers – thank you for that. And thanks to all of you who have joined PEN this year. It makes for a creative, argumentative and highly functional family.

I would like to thank the people who have made PEN South Africa what it is – to Lindsay Callaghan for transforming the website and for running the many projects we do and Deborah Horn-Botha for making things work and for keeping the books, to Oratile Mashazi for the work she did in Johannesburg. I would like to introduce and to welcome Myolisi Sikupela as our new Centre Co-ordinator. Myolisi is a fabulous writer – he won the 2016 Caine Prize. He is a filmmaker and a staunch advocate of free expression. I am sure you will join me in welcoming him to PEN South Africa. He has his work cut out for him!

I would like to thank the board – they have offered so much support and guidance, nuanced and measured interpretations of events and a fierce commitment to free speech, human rights and the messy complexity of how we make that happen. We welcome three new members – Mark Heywood, Nadia Davids and Karina Szczurek to the board. Mandla Langa and Raymond Louw – both vice presidents – have been consistently wise and decisive. Raymond, who turned ninety was awarded the inaugural PEN South Africa Freedom of Expression Champion Award. I ask you to think of who you would like to nominate for the 2017 award.

There has been so much more – it is there in all the wonderful newsletters put together by Lindsay Callaghan and on our website. I encourage you all to get involved where you can – there is much of interest lined up for 2017. I wish you all some peace and quiet over this holiday season and very sharp pens for the year ahead.

With the warmest wishes
Margie Orford
President, PEN South Africa

(Image by Giorgia Fanelli)