New details, and condemnations from English PEN, American PEN and many other quarters, are still coming in following reports that South African novelist ZP Dala has been admitted to a mental asylum in Durban, after remarks in praise of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and attacks on her that ensued.

The original statement from her publisher declared:

Author ZP Dala, one of the featured writers at the Time of the Writer Festival taking place in Durban from 16 to 21 March, was assaulted in Overport, Durban, on Wednesday, 18 March. The attack came after a session in which she expressed her admiration for the writing style of Salman Rushdie.

Some of the first responses assumed that ZP Dala had been incarcerated against her will. Neil Gaiman tweeted: “A South African writer has been attacked and imprisoned for admiring @SalmanRushdie.— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself).”

However, I contacted associates in South Africa, and they added that ZP Dala has apparently agreed to her committal, which may have been for her own protection, so the whole situation remains to be clarified. There don’t seem to be any doubts about her original comments on Rushdie and the attacks on her that followed, though. Her own Twitter feed with her comments on the situation is here.

One tweet says: “I spoke to a religious leader as I was in turmoil and his views were that I be admitted here so I can reflect on my religion and imaan.” Another says: “After being harrassed by a journo about “The Satanic Verses” I admitted it befuddled me. He reported that I expressed admiration for it!”

Other statements from her quoted by English PEN declare that: “I have also been harangued to withdraw, dissect, explain and renounce my admiration of [Rushdie’s] works. I could just as easily burn my Oscar Wilde collection because some homophobes came calling. I can’t turn back now and pretend I never admired his writing. I would look like a fool.”

Unfortunately, there’s nothing online right now, her own tweets included, to contradict the assumption that Dala may be under heavy pressure to renounce her original comments. It may be that she was misquoted and taken out of context, but the follow-on statements via English PEN don’t tend to support that. And so far at least, local Durban authorities and central South African institutions have not clarified what’s going on. Durban has a 24 percent Indian/Asian population as of 2011, and has recently been making moves to attract more Muslim tourism.


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