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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extended by the Academic Freedom Committee to this year’s speaker, the Danish journalist and editor Flemming Rose, was retracted by the Vice Chancellor, Max Price.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.

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