Q&A with New PEN SA Centre Coordinator Nokukhanya Mncwabe

29 Nov 2017
Q&A with New PEN SA Centre Coordinator Nokukhanya Mncwabe

Nokukhanya Mncwabe was recently appointed PEN SA Centre Coordinator. She was asked to share what motivated her to apply to work at PEN SA.

PEN SA: When did you start working at PEN SA?

Khanya Mncwabe: On the 3rd of October 2017.

PEN SA: What motivated you to apply for the position of PEN SA Centre Coordinator?

Khanya Mncwabe: I have worked as a human rights defender for close to ten years, but with a significant focus in the region and internationally. I feel as if I have been attempting to complete my legal studies at the University of South Africa for the same length of time! I had thus taken the decision to assume a professional sabbatical to focus more intensely on my studies. However, South Africa’s changing political climate, in particular our government’s more censorious tone, really motivated me to resume human rights work and the opportunity to join PEN SA as Centre Coordinator dovetailed with this reolve. I am excited to be a part of PEN SA and to contribute, in my small way, to safeguarding human rights closer to home.

PEN SA: What action(s) taken by PEN SA stand out for you?

Khanya Mncwabe: I greatly appreciate the advocacy undertaken by PEN SA in respect of the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. I also appreciate the fact that PEN SA does not shy away from interrogating really difficult and deeply contested ideas relating to the freedom of expression, as exemplified by the diverse views that were invited to weigh in on the Flemming Rose retraction. I also respect PEN SA for extending solidarity to writers who are imprisoned or under threat for their free expression work – and in this regard, the support to Jacques Pauw, Dr Stella Nyanzi and writers profiled for the 2017 Day of the Imprisoned Writer (Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla Figueroa, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, Ramón Esono Ebalé, Razan Zaitouneh and Zehra Doğan) are just some of the actions that make me proud to be associated with PEN SA.

PEN SA: South Africa is proving to be a remarkably resilient constitutional democracy, notwithstanding the multiple political, social, economic, governance-related challenges (most notably from government itself): what concerns, if any, do you have regarding the role of the writer in this time? What hopes/words of encouragement do you have for writers during this time?

Khanya Mncwabe: Writers who engage in free expression work without constitutional protections often engage in self-censorship on account of the very real threats to their liberty and person. I am encouraged by the courage and resilience of South African writers – to me this is a sign of confidence in our rule of law. I have also been encouraged to see the proliferation of writing of all genres that has been released in recent months – so much so that many titles often fly under the radar because of the noise of our political discourse. So rather than encouragement mine is a big thank you to the writers of Africa who continue to ply their craft even in the face of considerable financial pressures: I imagine that I am not the only bibliophile who is truly grateful for their efforts!

(Image courtesy of Ruschka Jaffah)