This piece – by me – was originally published in the The Press, Christchurch New Zealand about 3 yrs ago – and it seems right to reprint it now with all the furore about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Ken Saro-Wiwa (and 8 others) was hung for his protests about Shell and the problems caused in his country by the international oil companies – these problems continue today.
“The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils. He or she must be actively involved shaping its present and its future.” Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995)
Freedom of speech and supporting persecuted writers is remembered around the world each November. Called Courage Day in honour of two New Zealand writers, James and Sarah Courage, whose writings were suppressed in the early 20th century, this New Zealand name is also appropriate because of the bravery required by those authors who face opposition in its many forms
James Courage’s book ‘A Way of Love’, about a homosexual relationship, was banned in New Zealand for some years. His grandmother, Sarah Courage, wrote ‘Lights and Shadows of Colonial Life’, in which descriptions of her neighbours were so unflattering that many copies were destroyed.
PEN, (which is loosely aligned with Amnesty International) stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within, and between, all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression.
In 2006, as part of Courage Day, the NZ Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.) and PEN International remembered the Nigerian television producer, writer of satirical novels, children’s tales, and plays, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Born in 1941, he was the eldest son of a prominent Ogoni family, and after leaving university pursued an academic career. He later became a novelist and television producer: his long-running satirical TV series Basi & Co was purported to be the most watched soap opera in Africa. Throughout his work he often made references to the exploitation he saw as oil and gas industries took riches from the beneath the feet of the impoverished Ogoni farmers, and in return left the land and water polluted and the people disenfranchised. Read More…