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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Mini-seminars

All PEN centres adhere to the PEN charter

Naomi Meyer - 2011-12-08

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Margie, as executive vice-president of South African PEN, could you please explain to LitNet readers how you see South African PEN’s relationship with PEN International and Pretoria-PEN respectively?

All PEN centres (144 of them) are autonomous and make up the body of PEN International, to which member centres in good standing pay annual dues. Pretoria-PEN is, therefore, an autonomous centre. All PEN centres adhere to the PEN charter – a simple and direct document that is on our website and on the International PEN website.

There are many countries that have more than one centre: France, the United States, Spain and Switzerland, to mention but a few. This can be because of linguistic diversity or because of geographical diversity. An organisation made up of writers takes on many forms, as you can imagine. All, however, are committed to the principles of freedom of expression and tolerance as outlined in the charters. So the existence of more than one centre in South Africa is by no means unusual.

Anthony Fleischer, who is president of South African PEN, and Raymond Louw, another vice-president, will be able to give you more details if you should need that.

In an interview with PEN American Centre you made it clear that South African PEN embraces freedom of expression. What other objectives do you respect when it comes to writing and writing matters, especially in a complex country like South Africa?

South African PEN has a diverse membership of writers from a range of linguistic backgrounds. We have focused this past year on freedom of expression issues, but we are also working on the links between literacy and full citizenship. For a number of years we have run the PEN short story competition to encourage writing in southern Africa – have a look at sapen.co.za for details. The most recent collection was published by Jacana. JM Coetzee is the judge of the winners.

Do you welcome all writers in your organisation, regardless of colour or language? Any reason a writer cannot apply to become part of your organisation? What are the criteria for a writer to be part of South African PEN?

To your first question: absolutely. Our requirement for eligibility is one published book or a body of poetry or publications. There are some other members too – exceptional cases. Usually writers ask if they can be members – or we may ask someone if they would like to join. We have a look at their work and very, very importantly, we ask if they adhere to the PEN charter. Then they pay their dues and become a member.

How did you become involved in South African PEN and come to hold your current portfolio?

I became a member of PEN a few years ago. Then I was asked to join the board. After the serious illness of a board member who had done a great deal of work for PEN I was co-opted as vice-president. I work for a number of other charities too – I am patron of Rape Crisis and also of the children’s literacy NGO The Little Hands Trust. SAPEN is a registered not for profit organisation – so we are governed by fairly strict procedures.
What are your aspirations as individual writer?

I am fully supportive of freedom of expression, and of the value of literature in fostering understanding and social and political tolerance – the PEN charter.

You might want to look at the Girona Manifesto – adopted by the PEN Congress in Belgrade this year. South African PEN was part of the group that drafted this manifesto that supports linguistic diversity. It is posted on our website and on the International PEN website. You might find it of great interest.