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Responses to UCT's disinvitation of Flemming Rose


The responses received by PEN SA are linked at the bottom of the page

The University of Cape Town’s annual TB Davie Lecture on Academic Freedom was scheduled for this month. The lecture is not taking place because the invitation extended by the Academic Freedom Committee to this year’s speaker, the Danish journalist and editor Flemming Rose, was retracted by the Vice Chancellor, Max Price. The Vice Chancellor claimed that this was necessary because threats of violence had been made that necessitated the cancellation.

This unusual and disturbing event caused heated public discussion, including a response from the Academic Freedom Committee and pieces by Index on Censorship, Kenan Malik, David Benatar, Justin McCarthy, Mohammed Jameel Abdullah, Nathan Geffen and Pierre de Vos. This debate – and the range of opinions expressed – were reflected in the deep and at times difficult conversations that the board of PEN South Africa had around our responses to the “disinivitation” of a speaker whose views and whose actions are controversial and, to some people, deeply offensive.

This is a vital and highly complex conversation about free speech and academic freedom. It is a conversation that address its limits, its value, and its definitions in a world that is, both within the academy and without, grappling with how to hold the conversations that we need to have in order to shape a future that is inclusive, tolerant of diversity, and which addresses the great asymmetries of power and access that distort the world in which we live.

In order to honour this discussion, in order to hold that discursive space and to give the time needed to think through these issues that go to the heart of our identities, our freedoms, and our ways of being together, I invited PEN South Africa members to respond to this issue.

The essays published here are impassioned and thoughtful. The views are diverse and nuanced. Together they bring a vitality and an energy that will, I hope, inform the work that lies ahead of us as this part of an ongoing debate that needs principled thought each and every time such issues confront us.

My own view, as a writer and as a journalist, is that the principle of free speech – especially at a university, especially in South Africa’s developing and often fractious democracy, especially in this troubled world of ours that is so filled with conflict and intolerance – is vital and should be defended. I am convinced that free speech is a principle that has sufficient tensile strength and responsiveness to provide a protective frame for the many women and men who express views that go against the grain. I believe too that the principle of dialogue, of discussion, of listening is equally important. I am persuaded that how this is done – in this context and at this time – needs thought, consideration and flexibility. For this I am indebted to my colleagues and fellow writers. This discussion is held in that spirit. I thank all of you who have taken the time to think and to write.

With warm regards

Margie Orford
President PEN South Africa

The responses are linked below:

The Freedom to Rescind: Universal Freedoms, Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom – Reflecting on the events surrounding UCT’s 2016 TB Davie lecture by Gabeba Baderoon and Nadia DavidsGabeba Baderoon is a poet, academic and journalist and is a member of the PEN SA Board. Nadia Davids is a writer, theatre-maker and scholar and is on the PEN SA Board.

Raymond Louw Comments on UCT’s Decision to Disinvite Flemming RoseRaymond Louw is the Vice-President of PEN SA and is a veteran journalist and media freedom activist.

Albie Sachs: UCT Needs to be a Paragon of ToleranceAlbie Sachs is an author, activist, and former Constitutional Court justice.

Paul Trewhela: The Disinvitation of Flemming Rose is a Disgraceful Act of Effective CensorshipPaul Trewhela is an author, journalist, activist and historian.

Jacques Rousseau on UCT’s Disinvitation of Flemming RoseJacques Rousseau is an author, academic and activist, who was serving as the Chair of the Academic Freedom Committee during the time these events unfolded.

Flemming Rose and Academic Freedom by Elisa GalgutElisa Galgut is a poet and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town.

Today’s Lecture Has Been Cancelled by David AttwellDavid Attwell is an author and Professor of English at the University of York.

Freedom of Speech by Gillian GodsellGillian Godsell is a senior lecturer at the Wits School of Governance.

Please send any further responses to

The Rosa Parks Library Book Club celebrates Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala in Soweto

By Thato Rossouw

Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala

The Rosa Parks Library Book Club recently hosted Angela Makholwa and Lerato Tshabalala during the August edition of their monthly book club, held in the library’s Innovation Studio.

The Way I See ItBlack Widow Society

The library, which is located at the Ipelegeng Community Centre in White City, Jabavu, Soweto, is one of nine American Spaces run by the US Mission South Africa. It first opened its doors to the South African public in 1976, at the premises of the Orlando YMCA. It was moved to the Ipelegeng Community Centre in 1985.

This month’s event was held in celebration of women writers, and Makholwa and Tshabalala were asked to speak about their journeys in the world of literature.

Lerato Tshabalala

Tshabalala, whose debut The Way I See It has had the country speaking ever since its launch, spoke about what her book was really about.

“More than anything the book is about people understanding the plight of us as black people,” she said.

Angela Makholwa, who is the author of three books – and currently working on her fourth – spoke about the need for research grants for South African writers.

“I wish that was something we had. The ability to have the time and the money to go out there and interview our subjects,” she said.

Angela Makholwa


The event ended with a Q&A session where the writers answered questions ranging from their thoughts on the role of women in society to their choice of subject matter when writing.

Angela Makholwa, Lerato Tshabalala and the audience

Thato Rossouw (@Thato_Rossouw) tweeted live from the event:

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Young South African wins the Queen's Commonwealth Essay Competition


17-year-old Durbanite Inessa Rajah has won the 2016 Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition – the world’s oldest international schools writing competition – for her short story “Dr Congo-man”.

The winning essays were selected from approximately 13 500 entries spanning the five regions of the Commonwealth.

Representing nearly every Commonwealth country, entrants wrote about contemporary issues including the Syrian refugee crisis, conflict migration in Africa and finding a diasporic identity.

Rajah was named the Senior Winner. Senior Runner-up Esther Mugalaba, 19, comes from Lusaka, Zambia.

The Junior Winner and Runner-up, Gauri Kumar, 13, and Tan Wan Gee, 14, respectively, are both Singaporean nationals.

Entries were assessed by a pan-Commonwealth body of judges, drawn from more than 30 different countries across the globe. Judges described the entries as “inspirational”, “ambitious”, “profound’, “moving”, “imaginative” and stated that “the future of the Commonwealth is bright”.

The four pan-Commonwealth Winners and Runners-up will attend the traditional “Winners Week” in London in October of this year: a special programme consisting of cultural and educational activities. The week will culminate in an Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace where The Duchess of Cornwall will present the Winners and Runners-up with their certificates on behalf of The Queen.

Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society Michael Lake said: “The four young people chosen as the Winners and Runners-up of the Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition 2016 represent the very best and brightest that the Commonwealth has to offer. Their essays and poems explore contemporary themes with maturity, intelligence and depth beyond their years. We are proud of them and the thousands of other young writers who entered the competition this year from all around the Commonwealth.”

Rod Smith, Managing Director of Education at Cambridge University Press, said: “The Royal Commonwealth Society shares our vision of empowerment through education, and we’re thrilled to be sponsoring The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition once again. The quality of the entries this year were exceptional, and all of us at Cambridge University Press would like to extend our congratulations to the winners.”

Click on the author’s name to read their story:

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition was founded in 1883 and is the world’s oldest international schools’ writing contest. The competition is sponsored by Cambridge University Press and received approximately 13 500 entries from almost every country in the Commonwealth.

The Junior category is open to entrants aged 13 years and under and the Senior category is open to entrants aged 14-18.

The overarching theme for 2016 was “An Inclusive Commonwealth”, which is also the 2016 Commonwealth Year theme, and a topical theme for today’s youth. Both Senior and Junior topics gave young people the opportunity to think about aspects of the theme such as: the significance of community; the importance of diversity and difference; the question of belonging; the values of tolerance, respect and understanding; and the sense of shared responsibility that exists within the Commonwealth today. The topics were a chance to develop critical thinking and to express views in a creative manner.

Fred Khumalo's new novel on the sinking of the SS Mendi to be published in South Africa and the UK

Fred Khumalo
#ZuptasMustFallBitches' BrewSeven Steps To heavenTouch My Blood


Fred Khumalo’s new novel will be published in South Africa and in the United Kingdom in February 2017.

The book, titled Dancing the Death Drill, recounts the sinking of the SS Mendi, a passenger steamship that sank in the English Channel in 1917, killing 646 people, most of whom were black South African troops heading for France to serve in World War I. February 2017 will mark the centenary of the sinking of the Mendi.

Khumalo’s book will be published in South Africa by Umuzi and in the UK and Ireland by Jacaranda Books. Jacaranda Books founder Valerie Brandes said: “We are delighted to work with Umuzi and Penguin Random House South Africa on such a brilliant novel that will help shine a light on this dark moment in our history.”

Khumalo’s writing has appeared in various publications, including the Sunday Times, the Toronto Star, New African magazine, the Sowetan and Isolezwe. His most recent book, #Zuptasmustfall and Other Rants is published this month. Other books by him include Bitches Brew, Seven Steps to Heaven and Touch My Blood. He completed his MA in creative writing at the University of the Witwatersrand and is the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University, among other international writing fellowships.

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Harry the difficult dad: Jennifer Platt reviews Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Our favourite wizard has grown up, but he still knows how to cast a spell, writes Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Harry Potter And The Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne (Little, Brown)

If you are afraid that the eighth book will mess with your love of Harry Potter, don’t worry. JK Rowling has done it again. It thrillingly and effortlessly transports you back to the magical world filled with those much-loved characters and surprising storylines. Best of all, it’s fun!

Even though it is the script of a two-part play, with the story by Rowling but written by theatre greats John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, it has the heart of her novels. It’s also 330 pages long.

The story starts 19 years after Harry has battled Voldemort. It takes off exactly from the epilogue of the last book, The Deathly Hallows, with grownups Harry, Hermione, Ron and their families at King’s Cross Station on Platform 9 3/4.

Harry is now 37, world weary, and married to Ginny Weasley. They have three children, and the middle one, Albus Severus (named after Dumbledore and Snape), is off to his first year at Hogwarts. Worried that he will be sorted into the house of Slytherin, he gets iffy advice from his dad: “The Sorting Hat will take your feelings into account … it did for me.”

(Here come some spoilers …)

It doesn’t. Albus is immediately sorted into Slytherin, and this is the beginning of the deterioration of his relationship with his father.

One of the main themes of the Potter books was lasting friendship. Harry met Hermione and Ron on the Hogwarts Express on their first trip to the school. This time the theme is built around Albus’s friendship with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius. Like Harry and Ron, Albus meets him on the train and they share sweets – “Schock-o-Choc, Pepper Imps and Jelly Slugs”. They become firm friends who have much in common – they both have to deal with who their fathers are, their reputations and legacies.

Albus struggles to live up to what he thinks his father wants him to be. He has difficulty flying, is lousy at potions and spells and hates being at Hogwarts.

Scorpius has to deal with being a maleficent Malfoy – or even worse, Voldemort’s child, according to rumours. Despite his parentage or rumoured parentage, Scorpius is lovable, charming, clever and kind – and foolhardy Albus is lucky to have him as a friend.

To prove to his father that he is worthy of being a Potter, Albus decides on a harebrained scheme of saving someone in his father’s past. Together with Scorpius they use a time-turner – a device that allows them to travel quite far back in time. (This is unlike the one in The Prisoner of Azkaban, which allowed Hermione and Harry to travel only hours back in time).

We are then placed firmly in the past in the Goblet of Fire book, where the Triwizard Tournament takes place. This is a good device for settling readersin and allowing fans to go back to their favourite place and time to meet characters long gone.

By their actions, Albus and Scorpius set off a butterfly effect. Their world now has been changed by the events of the past. And – like their parents – instead of consulting with the adults they try to fix the problems themselves.

The writers show that things do change, but Harry Potter and his universe are still as enthralling and magical as ever.

Follow Jennifer Platt on Twitter @Jenniferdplatt

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Through a glass darkly: Michele Magwood talks to Sam Cowen about her memoir From Whiskey to Water

By Michele Magwood for the Sunday Times

Through a glass darkly: Michele Magwood talks to Sam Cowen about her memoir From Whiskey to Water

From Whiskey to WaterFrom Whiskey to Water
Sam Cowen (MF Books Joburg)

In January 2014 Sam Cowen came around after her first blackout in 12 years. She was facedown on the bricks of the Big Bay Surf and Lifesaving Club in Cape Town. It was all too familiar: her mouth was dry and tasted of vomit, her body hurt and she had no idea where she was or how she had got there. This time, though, there was no alcohol involved. This time she had passed out from hypothermia, having swum 7.5km from Robben Island to Bloubergstrand.

How she got there makes for riveting reading.

Cowen is one of the country’s best-loved media personalities: for many years the witty, laconic foil on the Highveld Stereo breakfast show, warm host of the TV show Great Expectations and author of several irreverent books on mothering. So there was some disbelief when it was announced that she had written a memoir of alcoholism and addiction. No one could be as sharp and sassy day in and day out if they had a drinking problem.

But she did, and in From Whiskey to Water she details epic benders and blackouts, crippling hangovers and a near-rape. “I was a high-functioning alcoholic,” she says. “I hate labels but this one is true.” She managed because she lived within a set of rules. “I was never drunk at work, for example, I never drank before lunchtime. I had hundreds of rules.”

Once she set out to drink a case of red wine in front of the television and almost succeeded before she passed out, another time she woke up on the floor of her study with the computer mouse in her hand, having tried to order a French maid’s outfit online. There are many such anecdotes illustrating what became a yawing free fall. It ended one night in her driveway, after she drove home on the wrong side of the road. She had vomit in her hair and a husband in tears, and that was it.

“I knew I’d broken every rule,” she says, “and I was going to lose my husband.”

With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous she began what is now 14 years of recovery, but that is by no means the end of the story.

She stopped drinking and started eating. And when she had ballooned to 102kg she started dieting obsessively and unsuccessfully. And then she started exercising manically, which became yet another addiction, and finally found long-distance swimming.

“It’s the numbness I like,” she says. “There’s a peace to it, an oblivion. It’s what I looked for in the alcohol, and what I sought and couldn’t find in food.”

Not content with simply swimming for health and enjoyment, though, she lashed herself ever further and faster, setting her sights on the Robben Island swim.

Why does she punish herself so? “I can’t answer that. I suppose if it’s not a challenge it’s not worth it. I can only be excessive.”

She’s quick to point out, though, that she lives on a regimen of anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications. “I was anxious before I started drinking and I’m still anxious now.” It seems a state of serenity will always elude her. “I have pockets of it, but I don’t think that’s possible for me. I just wasn’t built that way.”

Stringently honest, at times funny and at others frightening, From Whiskey to Water is an admirable story. And if Sam Cowen were to lift her head out of the water for long enough, she’d be deafened by the cheers.

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

•Listen to Sam Cowen’s interview on the Magwood on Books podcast:

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