PEN South Africa put out a press release addressing abuse claims against writer and Abantu Book Festival founder Thando Mgqolozana on August 24, 2021.

Thando Mgqolozana is one of the most important names in the South African literary space with the books A Man Who is Not a Man (2009), Hear Me Alone (2011) (our review), and Unimportance (2014) (our review). A Man Who is Not a Man was reissued by Cassava Republic Press in 2020. Apart from writing novels, he co-wrote Inxeba: The Wound (2018), which was shortlisted for the US academy awards and won at the South African Film and Television Awards. He also founded the Abantu Book Festival one of the most important artistic forums in the Southern African country since its first edition in 2016.

Over the weekend, the Cape Town-based writer was at the centre of a storm as he was alleged to have been involved in intimate partner abuse. This came from Tweets that were said to implicate him that were later deleted. PEN South Africa is the first institution to officially weigh in with a press release posted on their Twitter account.

We share the release in full below;

PEN South Africa’s Statement on allegations related to Gender Based Violence in our literary community

PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere creates dangerous forms of censorship – The PEN WOMEN’S MANIFESTO

Dear Friends.

We write this statement with a combination of anger and grief.

On Saturday the 21st of August a series of Tweets appeared accusing Thando Mgqolozana, the writer and founder/director of the Abantu Book Festival, of brutal acts of gender-based violence. The tweets and images have subsequently been deleted. Out of respect for the survivors stated desire for privacy we have refrained from using her name in this statement. We extend our support and solidarity and offer the same support to all women writers and journalists, and to all women who may be living in circumstances involving intimate partner violence.

While we do not know if a legal process is underway (and if so, what the outcomes will be), we do know it takes inordinate courage for any survivor of assault to come forward because the personal, emotional, and legal barriers to speaking out are significant. In a context in which just under 50% of South African women report experiencing physical and/or emotional abuse in their lifetimes, her claims are all too familiar. Our ethical duty to any and all survivors when they come forward is to say, ‘We Believe You’ and we offer those words here to the survivor of this assault, ‘We believe you. We stand by you.’

As an anti-censorship body that advocates for freedom of expression and is deeply invested in the literary health of our country, PEN is concerned with, and committed to, ensuring that violence does not hinder women’s participation in writing, reading, and debate. We issue this statement in that spirit, fully recognising that the allegations have already had a terrible radiating effect on our literary community and that many people who have supported Mgqolozana’s writings and the important, transformative work of the Abantu Book Festival feel betrayed and traumatised.

Our organisation is guided by PEN’s Women Manifesto which outlines the relationship between women, creativity, and freedom.

“PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere, creates dangerous forms of censorship. Across the globe, culture, religion, and tradition are repeatedly valued above human rights and are used as arguments to encourage or harm or defend women and girls.

PEN believes that the act of silencing is to deny their existence. It is a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.”

We commend survivors for speaking out and we commit to helping to build a literary community that welcomes survivor testimonies, does not shield abusers, and holds them accountable when they violate codes both legal and ethical.

*An earlier version of this statement erroneously stated that these Tweets included the accusation that Mr. Mgqolozana had doused the survivor with gasoline. We regret the error and any distress it may have caused.

Please find below links to organisations that support survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

Signed

The Board of PEN South Africa

Executive Committee

  • Nadia Davids – President
  • Yewande Omotoso – Executive Vice President
  • Sisonke Msimang
  • Pierre De Vos
  • Kate Highman
  • Bongani Kona
  • Nicky Falkof
  • Ekow Duker
  • Mandla Langa
  • Margie Orford – Special Advisor