South Africa

Country/Area: South Africa
Content of data base: Banned literature and newspapers according to "Jacobsens index of objectionable literature" published by South African publisher Jacobsen in 1996.
Specific period: 1950 - 1994
Censoring body: The South African regime of apartheid

Background information:
The South African regime of apartheid (1950-1994) remains one of the most inhuman and unjust regimes in modern history. The National Party of South Africa that came to power in 1948, named (Afrikaans for "apartness") and ruthlessly enforced the comprehensive policy of apartheid. However, racial segregation had long been practiced in South Africa before the National Party came to power. In fact, one may argue that the National Party completed a process that began with the so called Land Act of 1913.
In 1950 the Population Registration Act was adopted, classifying all South Africans as either Bantu (all black Africans), Coloured (persons of mixed race), or white. Later, Asian (Indian and Pakistani persons) was added as a fourth category. Also in 1950, the Group Areas Act was adopted, barring people from living, operating businesses or owning land anywhere else but in the areas designated for each race. These acts, along with two others adopted in 1954 and 1955, became known collectively as the Land Acts. As a consequence of the Land Acts, more than 80 percent of South Africa's land "belonged" to the white minority.

In order to enforce the segregation of the races and keep blacks in "their place", the existing so called "pass" laws were tightened and laws forbidding most social contacts between the races and authorized segregated public facilities were introduced. Further more the laws established separate educational standards, restricted each race to certain types of jobs, curtailed nonwhite labour unions, and denied nonwhite participation (through white representatives) in the national government.

The cruel regime of racism in South Africa was upheld by an elaborate system of banning, an efficient tool in suppressing all kinds of opposition coupled with lying, persecution, torture and killings. In effect, the Apartheid regime affected every aspect of social, political, cultural, intellectual and educational life; publications, organizations, assemblies and not least the South African extra-parliamentary liberation movement - the African National Congress - ANC, as well as the individual freedom of travel or speech.

The banning of organizations or of individuals was originally authorized by the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, with many subsequent amendments; these laws were superseded by the Internal Security Act of 1982, which retained nearly all their provisions. The definitions of communism and of the objects of communism were very broad and included any activity allegedly promoting disturbances or disorder; promoting industrial, social, political, or economic change in South Africa; and encouraging hostility between whites and nonwhites so as to promote change or revolution. The main organizations banned under these laws were the Communist Party of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Pan-African Congress.

More than 2,000 people were banned in South Africa from 1950 to 1990, labelled a communist or terrorist, or otherwise a threat to security and public order. The banned person would in effect be a public nonentity; confined to his or her home; not allowed to meet with more than one person at a time (other than family), hold any offices in any organization, speaking publicly or writing for any publication. Also barred from certain areas, buildings, and institutions, such as law courts, schools, and newspaper offices. A banned person could not be quoted in any publication. In spite of the elaborate and powerful regime of suppression, resistance prevailed, and Black African groups, at times with the support of whites, arranged demonstrations, strikes or sabotage etc. The black African young students protest in Soweto in 1976 against the attempt to enforce Afrikaans language requirements, turned into a bloody riot by the police, became the symbol of a just struggle that shook the world into reaction against the brutal apartheid system. It even caused some white South African politicians to call for relaxed restrictions, some even called for racial equality. But the government did not give in. The ban on opposition groups and antiapartheid activists were only lifted in 1990.

But by 1978 the illusion of peace and prosperity for the white minority rulers with continued apartheid was shattered. Most of the homelands were economic and political disasters, and the protests continued to grow. In 1983, 1,000 black and white representatives of 575 community groups, trade unions, sporting bodies, and women's and youth organizations launched the United Democratic Front. This sparked off a vast escalation of strikes, boycotts, and attacks on black police and urban councillors, resulting in 1985 in a state of emergency declared in parts of the country. A year later the government declared a nationwide state of emergency and embarked on a savage campaign to eliminate all opposition. During 3 years police and soldiers terrorised townships, destroying black squatter camps and detaining, abusing, and killing thousands of Africans, while the army also continued its forays into neighbouring countries.
The government tried to conceal the atrocities by banning television, radio, and newspaper coverage, but international criticism and actions were growing. Economic sanctions such as those imposed by the United Kingdom and the United States in 1985, fuelled the pressure mounting both inside and outside South Africa. Already in 1961 South Africa had been forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth due to its racial policies. Increasingly isolated as the last bastion of white racial domination, South Africa now was the target of global denunciation. Attempting to pacify unrest and criticism, the government abolished the "pass" laws in 1986. But still it was illegal for a black African to live in designated white areas, and the police held broad emergency powers.

Only in 1990-91 came the real shift of policy, and thus the unravelling of the much hated system was speeded up. In 1990-91 most of the legal basis for apartheid was repealed, but racial segregation continued in practice. During 1991 Parliament repealed the basic apartheid laws, including the Group Areas Act, the Population Registration Act, and the Land Acts; the state of emergency was lifted. Many exiles were allowed to return, and many political prisoners were freed, including the imprisoned ANC leader Nelson Mandela later to become South Africa's truly democratically elected first president.

The basis for real change came with the new constitution that granted voting rights to all South Africans irrespective of race. In the all-race national elections in April 1994, ANC won 63 percent of the vote and produced a coalition government with a black majority. On May 10 Mandela was sworn in as president of the new South Africa. The new constitution contained a long list of political and social rights and a mechanism through which Africans could regain ownership of land that was taken away under apartheid. The deeply entrenched social and economic legacy of apartheid will for some time scar the multinational South Africa.

Documenting the censorship of the apartheid regime
Although grimly menacing, the magnitude of censorship and banning of expressions in South Africa during the apartheid regime seems truly paranoid. The comprehensive list of banned items included any object carrying an ANC-symbol; buttons, T-shirts and lighters etc. as well as objectionable literature, folders, posters, films, etc. Detailed information about all items censored has been carefully compiled by the South African publisher Jacobsen, in the "Jacobsen's index of objectionable literature" (1996). This admirable work is restoring to memory and for posterity all the details of the apartheid madness. The relentless struggle against the apartheid regime has been subject to numerous studies, notably also by the South African historian Christopher Merrett, who besides producing books such as "A Culture of Censorship" (Christopher Merrett: A Culture of Censorship, Secrecy and Intellectual Repression in South Africa, University of Natal Press, Pietermaritzburg 1994), also has compiled a complete list of censorship through the entire history of South Africa. The list included in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina database, has been given with the gracious consent of the author.

The power to ban publications was held by the minister of the interior under the Publications and Entertainments Act of 1963. Under the act a publication could be banned if it was found to be "undesirable" for any of many reasons, including obscenity, moral harmfulness, blasphemy, causing harm to relations among sections of the population, or being prejudicial to safety, general welfare, peace, or order of the state. Thousands of books, newspapers, and other publications were banned in South Africa from 1950 to 1990.


Publications relevant to censorship and freedom of expression in South Africa.