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Gordimer: Free expression threatened in S.Africa

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JOHANNESBURG — Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer is leading South African writers in speaking out against proposals she fears will muzzle freedom of speech in her homeland.

Gordimer said Tuesday she and fellow writer Andre Brink — both veterans of the anti-apartheid movement — were moved to take action because the white government once banned their work. They know "what censorship can do," she said.

"If information is withheld, there is indeed part of your intellect and intelligence that does not develop," she told The Associated Press.

The two are encouraging other writers to sign on to a statement condemning two proposed South African laws. One proposal could jail reporters for publishing information the government wants kept secret, and another would create a tribunal appointed by parliament that could discipline journalists.

The statement, which Gordimer said has drawn "remarkable" support in the week it has circulated among writers, says: "If the work and the freedom of the writer are in jeopardy, the freedom of every reader in South Africa is in danger."

Gordimer said a list of writers who have joined her call will be released soon.

The proposals from the governing African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, follow years of tension between politicians and the media. They have drawn condemnation from journalists, legal experts, even business leaders who fear foreign investors will see it as a sign the government is trying to hide corruption.

"We writers now feel that we're part of a groundswell of opposition to this," Gordimer said.

No date has been set for a parliamentary vote on the information bill. Some influential ANC leaders have said the media tribunal is merely being debated and is not necessarily party policy. But other powerful figures, including President Jacob Zuma, have said the proposals are needed to protect government secrets and improve the media.

Gordimer said the politicians behind the proposals were trying to hide corruption in high places. She said it is "tragic" that the ANC is proposing such measures after once leading the fight against apartheid.

"People died for our freedom," she said. "People spent years and years in prison, from the great Nelson Mandela down through many others."

Gordimer, 86, won the Nobel literature prize in 1991. Three of her novels and an anthology she edited of the work of black writers were banned by the apartheid government, which once declared her unpatriotic.

Tuesday, Gordimer said her letter on freedom of expression showed her loyalty to the ideals of the post-apartheid government.

"I definitely feel it's a patriotic statement," she said. "Because I care very much."