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PEN SA Calls on Government and Universities to Safeguard the Protesting Students

Thursday 22 October 2015 - 1:00am


Click here to add your name to our letter.

To Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa and to Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, to the Vice Chancellors of South Africa’s Universities

PEN South Africa calls on you to intervene with urgency and restraint in the escalating #FeesMustFall crisis that has brought thousands of students out onto the streets in protest and which has shut down almost all universities in South Africa. Nipping this in the bud will forestall the possibility of the crisis trickling down to other layers in the educational system.

PEN South Africa stands for the right to freedom of expression – violence denies this fundamental human right. The exclusion of so many from university because the cost of an education is too high denies an educated, literate productive future to this generation of South Africans.

The scenes we witnessed today in which student protesters were met with heavily armed riot policemen, stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets were deeply shocking. Education is a constitutionally guaranteed right which many are denied because they are poor. These are images that evoke the spectre of heavy-handedness that is inimical with the ethos of our democracy.

These protests indicate that there has been a profound failure to deal imaginatively and politically with the deep social, educational and economic divides in South Africa. The abiding irony is that the drama unfolding outside parliament didn’t seem to stir the Members of Parliament, many of whom contributed as student activists to the ushering in of democracy.

We call on you to act before the violence escalates further. We call on you to act before a single young life is lost. We call on you to act to safeguard both the lives and futures of the students protesting.

The most important thing to remember is that these students represent the future. They deserve to be heard.

PEN South Africa brings together poets, novelists, essayists, historians, playwrights, critics, translators, editors, journalists and screenwriters in a common concern for the craft and art of writing and a commitment to freedom of expression through the written word. It is a pertinent time to remember the words of American novelist James Baldwin that power without morality leads to tyranny.

Margie Orford
PEN South Africa

Mandla Langa
Executive Vice-President
PEN South Africa

Raymond Louw
Vice President
PEN South Africa


Ben Williams, Editor
Masande Ntshanga, Author
Hsien Lou, Author
Pierre De Vos, Lecturer
Noélle Koeries, Tutor
Sibongile Sithole, Student
Adrianne Harun, Writer
Jeff MacGregor, Writer
Angela Quintal, Journalist
Margaret Fisher, Scholar-Artist
Bassie Gola, Student
Arturo Calisto, Teacher
Anita Branco
Lwandile Fikeni, Essayist
Alecia Samuels, Academic
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Writer
Louis Greenberg, Writer
Helen Walne, Author
Tim House
Herman Wasserman, Academic and Author
Zanele Mbuyisa, Attorney
Cat Lucas, English PEN Writers at Risk Programme Manager
Joost Nijsen, Publisher
Ncumisa Bam, Analyst
Peet Strydom, Chief Testing Officer
Jennifer Clement, PEN International President
Nadia Davids, Writer
Gillian Slovo, Writer
Aline Davidoff, Writer
Kama Sokolnicka, Artist
Lisa Appignanesi, Writer and Former President of English PEN
Lauren Murphy, Student
Thapelo Mahlangu, Student
Liam Kruger, Writer
Liesl Jobson, Writer
Nelisa Tshaka, Manager
Leon de Kock, Scholar and Writer
Prabu Deepan, Activist
Jean Ngwenya
Michele Magwood, Journalist
Faith Biti, Student
Gillian Rightford, Lecturer and Consultant
Iain Thomas, Poet
Pippa Mcleod, Designer
Salma Seedat, CEO
Rae Mackinnon-Little
Nooshin Erfani, Development and PEN SA Board Member
Louis Fourie, Software Engineer
Louise Marsland, Journalist
Beata Hrycak, Translator
Morag Swanepoel, Teacher
Diane Moor, Marketer
Lawrence Hamilton, Academic and Writer
Erica Livingston, Writer
Lesley Cowling, Academic
Jennifer Malec, Editor

Click here to add your name to our letter.