Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
Six new authors have stepped up after six others, including Teju Cole and Taiye Selasi, had objected to PEN American Centre’s decision to honour the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, with its annual PEN/Toni and James C Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.
Among these authors agreeing with PEN America’s move are Congolese Man Booker International Prize-nominee Alain Mabanckou, British novelist Neil Gaiman, American cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel, The New Yorker staff writer George Packer, and Iranian author and academic Azar Nafisi. They will be the new table hosts at the 2015 PEN Literary Gala which is set to take place later today at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Speaking for PEN, Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel has written an article titled “Why We’re Honoring Charlie Hebdo for The New York Times, addressing the objections and highlighting why they stand by their decision.
They write: “In offering this award, PEN does not endorse the content or quality of the cartoons, except to say that we do not believe they constitute hate speech. The question for us is not whether the cartoons deserve an award for literary merit, but whether they disqualify Charlie Hebdo from a hard-earned award for courage. (The gala on Tuesday will also honor Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist in jail for exposing rampant corruption.)”
Read the article to find out more:
Six writers of tremendous distinction — Peter Carey, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose and Taiye Selasi — have sent notes to us indicating that they were not comfortable attending our gala on Tuesday, in light of the award. Many other writers of distinction — including Paul Auster, Adam Gopnik, Siri Hustvedt, Porochista Khakpour, Alain Mabanckou, Azar Nafisi, Salman Rushdie, Simon Schama and Art Spiegelman — have made statements (some in public and some in private) in support of the award. Our goal has been to avoid a reductive binary; this is a nuanced question, and all of these writers have made persuasive moral arguments.
Mabanckou, who will present the award to Charlie Hebdo, wrote a fierce op-ed in the French publication L’Express in reaction to Cole and company’s boycotting of the event, saying that he is “astonished” by their actions.
As heavyweights of the English-speaking literary world these authors clearly do not understand how their action has, paradoxically, placed an impediment on the very concept of freedom of speech and expression, Mabanckou writes. He goes on to address their attack on the “French cultural arrogance”, saying that without cultural arrogance there can be no freedom of expression.
PEN’s award to Hebdo has been the subject of controversy over the past week, with six writers publicly withdrawing from their roles at the gala to distance themselves from the award and nearly 140 more joining them in a letter of public protest. The controversy prompted an outpouring of support from dozens of other writers and journalists, including Mabanckou, who endorsed the award to honor the magazine’s rejection of “the efforts by a small minority of radical extremists to place broad categories of speech off limits,” even in the face of extreme violence.
Read his article, written in French:
J’ai appris avec stupéfaction que six de mes confrères, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner et Taiye Selasi ont décidé de boycotter la cérémonie de la remise de ce prix à l’hebdomadaire français dont le drame du massacre de la rédaction par des terroristes est encore dans nos mémoires. Ces écrivains sont, comme qui dirait, des “poids lourds” dans la littérature d’expression anglaise. Leur attitude et leurs déclarations ne sont donc pas passées inaperçues et, paradoxalement, ce sont elles qui mettent en danger la liberté d’expression! Si je peux comprendre la liberté de chacun d’eux d’agir en son âme et conscience – et peut-être aussi d’alimenter des controverses oiseuses – je ne saisis pas l’argument de “l’arrogance culturelle de la France”, considérée comme la pomme de discorde.
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Image courtesy of French Culture
Enoh Meyomesse, one of the five “Writers at Risk” cases selected by PEN last year, was released this week after spending more than three harrowing years in the overcrowded Kondengui Central Prison in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé.
PEN International and PEN England believe that the charges against the Cameroonian poet, essayist and political activist were politically motivated, and that he was imprisoned because of his criticism of the government and his political activism.
“It’s funny to see the prison from outside,” Meyomesse told writer Patrice Nganang, who campaigned for his release, as reported by The Guardian. “They practically threw me outside. It was quite forceful. But if it is kicking me outside to freedom, then there’s nothing to complain about.”
Alain Mabanckou, who wrote an open letter to Meyomesse on the Day of the Imprisoned Writer in November last year, said on Twitter: “It’s our victory. Freedom of speech is stronger than ever. I am proud of having wrote an open letter for Enoh.”
Meyomesse, who is the author of over 15 books and the recipient of the 2012 Oxfam Novib/PEN Free Expression Award, was arrested in Yaoundé in 2011, and charged, along with three other men, with attempting to organise a coup and aggravated theft. He was sent to a prison in Bertoua in the Eastern Province of Cameroon, and held in solitary confinement and, according to PEN, complete darkness for 30 days.
In 2012, after 13 months in prison, Meyomesse was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined 200,000 CFA (about US$418) for supposed complicity in the theft and illegal sale of gold. As PEN reported: “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.’”
During his time in prison, Meyomesse suffered from several medical conditions, but continued to write and publish. In November 2012 he self-published a collection of poetry, Poème carcéral: Poésie du pénitencier de Kondengui, which available to read online (in French). In 2013 English PEN launched a crowd-sourced translation of the volume in order to raise funds for him and his family, and create greater awareness of his case. Jail Verse: Poems from Kondengui Prison is available to download here.
In a powerful piece on the immeasurable value of receiving books in prison, Meyomesse wrote: “They are like oxygen, they cannot be replaced.”
We hope Meyomesse will be back among his own bookshelves soon.
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View PEN’s tweets announcing Meyomesse’s release:
Image courtesy of Free Enoh Meyomesse
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President Jacob Zuma has responded to an open letter addressed to him by award-winning Mozambican author Mia Couto earlier this week on the subject of the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa.
Read Zuma’s response:
My Dear Brother
I was very happy to hear from you after a long time. It is a pity that we are reconnecting under sad and painful circumstances which have prompted you to write an open letter to me.
I remember you from our days in Mozambique, when you worked at the Mozambique Information Agency and when you were editor of Tempo magazine and later of Noticias.
I cannot forget the friendship that Mozambique accorded my comrades and to me personally. In fact Mozambique became my second home and it remains my home.
You are in pain as your letter indicates, because of the deaths of Mozambicans and the general attacks on foreign nationals in parts of our country. South Africans are also in pain because of the tragic and senseless killings of all seven persons in the past weeks. These are three South Africans and four foreign nationals. May their souls rest in peace and may their tragic deaths unite us all in the quest for peace and an end to violence.
The reports we have received indicate that the attacks last week in Durban were sparked off by the conduct of an employer who fired South African workers who had gone on strike and employed workers from outside the country. Even in the South African context, the employment of scab labour usually triggers an angry reaction from workers who are on strike. We join the country’s trade unions in appealing to employers to avoid such behaviour of pitting workers against one another. The Soweto attacks in January were triggered by the fatal shooting of a young man by a non-South African shopkeeper.
This is a difficult period for our country and its people. Millions of peace loving South Africans are in pain because they are being accused of being xenophobic which is not true. South Africans are definitely not xenophobic. The actions of a small minority should not be used to wrongfully label and stereotype more than 50 million people.
Since 1994, we have worked tirelessly to rebuild our country and to reverse the legacy of apartheid colonialism. We have made progress in building a society that is based on the respect for the right to life, human rights, equality and human dignity. We continue to build a society free of any form of discrimination. We are doing so because we know the pain of being discriminated against because of your skin colour, language or nationality.
You reminded me of the hospitality and generosity that was accorded to me by Mozambicans during my stay in your beautiful country in exile. We agree that we benefited immensely from international solidarity and friendship during our struggle against apartheid. Our brothers and sisters in the African continent in particular shared their meagre resources with us. Many were killed for supporting our struggle for freedom. The Matola raid in your beautiful country is an example. It is for this reason that we embrace our African brothers and sisters who migrate to South Africa legally. In fact our migration policy is advanced because we integrate refugees and asylum seekers within our communities. They live among our citizens, they are part of us. We are one people as President Samora Machel said after the tragic Matola raid in which many Mozambicans were killed by apartheid security forces.
Mozambicans and South Africans, and also FRELIMO and the ANC, enjoy deep bonds that go far back into our history. These are bonds created by our living together, our working together, and of our fighting together against colonialism and apartheid. In spite of Mozambique’s vulnerability to attacks from apartheid forces, you demonstrated an unwavering willingness to “turn a blind eye” to MK and ANC combatants so that they could pass through Mozambique and enter South Africa clandestinely to engage apartheid forces.
We built our movements together in the early years of the anticolonial struggle. We shared camps in Tanzania. Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) cadres fought side by side with the Angolan MPLA and the Cubans to defend Angola’s independence.
South Africa has not changed and has not forgotten such comradeship and solidarity. But like most countries that have emerged from conflict, we have deep-seated challenges.
We appreciate the contribution of foreign nationals in South Africa. They contribute to our economic development by investing in the economy, bringing critical skills and through adding to the diversity that we pride ourselves in. But there are also some complaints or problems that citizens have raised which need to be addressed. These include the increasing number of illegal and undocumented immigrants in the country, the displacement of many local small traders by foreign nationals and that some of the migrant traders operate illegally. There are also accusations that foreign nationals commit crimes such as drug peddling and human trafficking, that they take the jobs of locals as employers prefer them as they are prepared to take lower wages and also complaints about free government housing that is secured by foreign nationals. We have emphasised that none of these grievances justify any form of violence against foreign nationals and that it will never be tolerated by government. We are also pointing out that not all migrants are in the country illegally and not all are involved in criminal activities.
The grievances of the South African population have to be balanced with the plight of many refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from the continent and beyond. We therefore have a lot of work to do to find long-term solutions. We are already looking beyond the incidents of the past weeks. I have appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee of 14 Ministers to look into the broader management of migration. Drawing support from all sectors of society, they will help us address the underlying socio-economic causes of the tensions between citizens and brothers and sisters from the continent and from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh to prevent another flare up of violence. We have already had consultations with all sectors in our country from business, labour, sports, religious leaders, youth, women, children’s sectors and many others. I am also consulting organisations representing foreign nationals resident in the country in the process of seeking solutions. Ministers, Premiers, Deputy Ministers and other government leaders are all over the country speaking to the South African population as well as part of the consultations.
In the short-term we will also improve the implementation of the existing migration policy including tightening controls at the ports of entry and borders and also ensuring adherence to the laws of the country, while protecting migrants and the local population from criminal elements who are taking advantage of the tensions caused by socio-economic challenges. Work has also begun to review the country’s migration policy based on the current and recent experiences.
Our government will rely on the cooperation of sister countries in the continent from where most of the migrants come, as we search for solutions.
We truly appreciate the encouraging messages from the African Union, the United Nations and other regions.
What also gives us strength as government, is that we are working with the full support of our peace-loving population. The peace and friendship marches that are being held throughout the country embody the South Africa we know and the South Africa we are proud of. That is the South Africa which condemns hatred, violence, racism, xenophobia and all other related intolerances.
I invite you to join us my dear brother, as we move beyond the anger and pain, and promote sustainable and inclusive development as well as peace and friendship all over Africa.
President Jacob Zuma
Tshwane, South Africa
Source: South African Government
Images courtesy of Times LIVE and Neustadt Prize
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Binyavanga Wainaina has responded to the xenophobic violence in South Africa, in which seven people have lost their lives, with a series of touching tweets describing his fond memories of Mzansi in the heady political days of the 1990s.
“I became an African in South Africa,” the Kenyan writer says. “They taught me to understand the possibilities of engaged political action. I was adopted by many.”
He continues: “I was made at home in Umtata, Motherwell, Soweto, Mdantanse, and more. Loved township living.”
Wainaina was born in Nakuru, Kenya, in 1971, and studied commerce at the University of Transkei in South Africa from 1991. He moved to Cape Town in 1996, where he worked as a travel and food writer and professional cook. He completed an MPhil in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2010.
He came out as gay in a “lost chapter” of his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, in January last year, and shortly afterwards was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
“So many black South Africans opened doors 4 me, and I was completely stranded and afraid. Never asked for anything in return. For years.
“I have felt alone, really alone, many times. I never felt alone in a black university in South Africa.
“To this day, there is a Xhosa in my heart somewhere deep.”
Read a timeline of Wainaina’s tweets:
Image: The Guardian
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Mozambican author Mia Couto has written an open letter to Jacob Zuma concerning the current xenophobic violence in South Africa.
Couto received the prestigious 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, becoming the first Mozambican author to be honoured with the title, and was recently announced as a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.
Update: President Jacob Zuma has responded to Couto: Read his open letter here
Paul Fauvet, the editor of the Mozambique News Agency, shared a translation of Couto’s open letter in a public post on Facebook.
Read the letter:
Open Letter from the Chairperson of the “Fernando Leite Couto Foundation”, Mia Couto
To: His Excellency President Jacob Zuma
We remember you in Maputo, in the 1980s, from that time you spent as a political refugee in Mozambique. Often our paths crossed on Julius Nyerere Avenue and we would greet each other with the casual friendliness of neighbours. Often I imagined the fears that you must have felt, as a person persecuted by the apartheid regime. I imagined the nightmares you must have experienced at night when you thought of the ambushes plotted against you and against your comrades in the struggle. But I don’t remember ever seeing you with a bodyguard. In fact it was we Mozambicans who acted as your bodyguards. For years we gave you more than a refuge. We offered you a house and we gave you security at the cost of our security. You cannot possibly have forgotten this generosity.
We haven’t forgotten it. Perhaps more than any other neighbouring country, Mozambique paid a high price for the support we gave to the liberation of South Africa. The fragile Mozambican economy was wrecked. Our territory was invaded and bombed. Mozambicans died in defence of their brothers on the other side of the border. For us, Mr President, there was no border, there was no nationality. We were all brothers in the same cause, and when apartheid fell, our festivities were the same, on either side of the border.
For centuries Mozambican migrants, miners and peasants, worked in neighbouring South Africa under conditions that were not far short of slavery. These workers helped build the South African economy. There is no wealth in your country that does not carry the contribution of those who today are coming under attack.
For all these reasons, it is not possible to imagine what is going on in your country. It is not possible to imagine that these same South African brothers have chosen us as a target for hatred and persecution. It is not possible that Mozambicans are persecuted in the streets of South Africa with the same cruelty that the apartheid police persecuted freedom fighters, inside and outside the country. The nightmare we are living is more serious than that visited upon you when you were politically persecuted. For you were the victim of a choice, of an ideal that you had embraced. But those who are persecuted in your country today are guilty merely of having a different nationality. Their only crime is that they are Mozambicans. Their only offence is that they are not South Africans.
Mr President, the xenophobia expressed today in South Africa is not merely a barbaric and cowardly attack against “the others”. It is also aggression against South Africa itself. It is an attack against the “Rainbow Nation” which South Africans proudly proclaimed a decade or more ago. Some South Africans are staining the name of their motherland. They are attacking the feelings of gratitude and solidarity between nations and peoples. It is sad that your country today is in the news across the world for such inhuman reasons.
Certainly measures are being taken. But they are proving inadequate, and above all they have come late. The rulers of South Africa can argue everything except that they were taken by surprise. History was allowed to repeat itself. Voices were heard spreading hatred with impunity. That is why we are joining our indignation to that of our fellow Mozambicans and urging you: put an immediate end to this situation, which is a fire that can spread across the entire region, with feelings of revenge being created beyond South Africa’s borders. Tough, immediate and total measures are needed which may include the mobilization of the armed forces. For, at the end of the day, it is South Africa itself which is under attack.
Mr President, you know, better than we do, that police actions can contain this crime but, in the current context, other preventive measures must be taken. So that these criminal events are never again repeated.
For this, it is necessary to take measures on another scale, measures that work over the long term. Measures of civic education, and of exalting the recent past in which we were so close, are urgently needed. It is necessary to recreate the feelings of solidarity between our peoples and to rescue the memory of a time of shared struggles. As artists, as makers of culture and of social values, we are available so that, together with South African artists, we can face this new challenge, in unity with the countless expressions of revulsion born within South African society. We can still transform this pain and this shame into something which expresses the nobility and dignity of our peoples and our nations. As artists and writers, we want to declare our willingness to support a spirit of neighbourliness which is born, not from geography, but from a kinship of our common soul and shared history.
Maputo, 17 April 2015
Image courtesy of Neustadt Prize
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The Underground Girls of Kabul: The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys
Jenny Nordberg (Little Brown)
There have always been women who pass themselves off as men – but in countries where women’s lives are severely restricted the practice takes on a particular poignancy. In Afghanistan, a young daughter passed off as a son is called bacha posh. The advantages for a family are many – from social status to a pair of working hands. But what happens when the girls reach puberty and are expected to give up the freedom they enjoyed as boys? With astonishing access and moving insight, Jenny Nordberg traces the transitions of some extraordinary girls and women in contemporary Afghanistan. A riveting story.
– Jacqui L’Ange @jaxangel
Before the Fire
Sarah Butler (Picador)
Stick is one unlikable character – arrogant, self-centred and not too bright. In other words just another 18-year-old lad living in Manchester. Just as there is a glimmer of hope, his best friend Mac is killed the night before they are supposed to go on their epic road trip to the sunny beaches of Malaga. Stick can’t deal with Mac’s death and fobs off all the love and support his family gives, choosing instead to spend time with the equally troubled J. Way too much angst.
- Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt
Jill Alexander Essbaum (Mantle)
Intellectual literary erotica is not your 50 Shades of Grey. The sex does not necessarily titillate, nor does it disgust, but forms part of a brutally honest personal history. Anna is a housewife living an isolated life in her husband’s country, Switzerland. Doktor Messerli, her analyst, believes her life is like a bucket with a hole, leaking happiness and in need of repair. But as the storyline progresses in a plait of three threads, the question becomes whether the bucket is simply too heavy to bear. Essbaum’s flat poetic prose delivers a work of art.
- Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie
Race, Class and Power: Harold Wolpe and the Radical Critique of Apartheid
Steven Friedman (UKZN Press)
Harold Wolpe was an anti-apartheid activist perhaps best remembered by the masses for his daring escape from a Johannesburg jail. In this social biography, however, he is recast as one of South Africa’s foremost intellectuals. The author’s lucid writing and analysis put him in the same class as Mark Gevisser. Friedman’s book is a fine scholarly work told in a fascinating manner that makes it accessible to wider audiences.
– Bhekisisa Mncube @BhekisisaMncube
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Warman left SA before her formal graduation ceremony, “because I knew I wasn’t brave enough to do what Guy, Zubeida and Marion did. But, I did want to pay tribute to them by writing about their lives. I also want people to remember all those, and they are legion, whose names we do not even know, who also struggled and died.”
The Class of ’79 is no misery memoir and Warman is not a bleeding heart liberal. There are few adjectives, her observations are pertinent and she is something of an historian, covering seminal events of the 1970s and 1980s draconian apartheid SA.
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- The Class of 79: The story of three fellow students who risked their lives to destroy apartheid by Janice Warman
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Porcupine Press would like to invite you to the launch of Long Road to Liberation: An Exiled Namibian Activist’s Perspective by Hans Beukes.
The anti-apartheid activist will relay his tale of struggle and victory on Tuesday, 31 March, at The Book Lounge. The event will start at 5:30 for 6 PM.
Come and listen to Beukes’ tale of winning a scholarship to study at the University of Oslo in Norway and having his passport confiscated the moment he left his homeland.
Don’t miss it!
About the book
In the late 1950s Hans Beukes, a native of the then South West Africa, was a student at the University of Cape Town when he won a ‘solidarity scholarship’ tenable for three years at the University of Oslo in Norway. ‘At your age, Mr Beukes,’ his professor in Constitutional History told him, ‘it ought to be an adventure.’
And so it turned out. As he was about to board an ore carrier bound for Oslo from Port Elizabeth, the South African government confiscated his passport. Back in Cape Town he met an American activist who would become a key figure in the US Civil Rights movement. Allard Lowenstein had no words of comfort for him, but a challenge: ‘Unless some of you are prepared to leave the comfort of your homes to go to fight the regime on the world stage, where they now monopolise opinion, you can forget about getting rid of apartheid.’
Beukes accepted the challenge. Thus was launched ‘the Beukes case’ in the annals of the international tug-of-war about the future of the Territory that would become Namibia.
The author paints a memorable picture of the protracted struggles against the apartheid government and of the ceaseless work done in mobilising international public opinion against the repressive regime.
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To combat shoplifting of their titles, Jacana Media have come up with a “Hot Reads campaign” – promoting the books that get stolen the most from South African bookshops.
Jacana shared the above photograph with the following post on their Facebook page:
It’s a familiar refrain from the bookshops. “We don’t want to order these books as they are always getting stolen.” “Not interested thanks, if I put it on the shelf it is just going to get stolen.” It gets a little heartbreaking after a while. Publishers reps, or sales executives, are a pretty hardy bunch; they need to be in this day and age, but nevertheless it can make a hardened pro cry when we are publishing the very books so many want, and want so badly that some resort to a bit of shoplifting.
How though to get around the problem? Hot Reads, a collection of the most stolen books, with bookmarks and stickers to show them off. We hope to sell very many more of this desirable bunch through this bookshop promotion.
What do you think of Jacana’s initiative? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.
The following titles are part of the Hot Reads selection:
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Verdict: critical carrot
The ghost of Comrade September and his ilk (dead or living dead) will forever haunt our country’s politics. After the last page of the book is turned, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Who among our self-anointed messiahs was a spy or suspected of being a spy?” How much information does Jacob Zuma, a former leader of the ANC’s intelligence, know about his comrades? Is the lack of criticism of his failures in office, of Nkandla, a result of people being afraid of being exposed?
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