You are on page 1of 32

What Were Trying To Do Is Establish Democracy Censorship & South Africas Foreign Relations During Apartheid

Arno Rosenfeld

Keystone Project Research Paper 5/29/2012

Rosenfeld 2

From the 1940s until the early 1990s the Republic of South Africa was ruled by a minority government of whites who oversaw a systemic disenfranchisement and oppression of the black African majority under a system known as Apartheid, or separation. The South African society and economy were based on the exclusion of non-whites from mainstream society and the availability of cheap labor. The government, controlled for the entire length of Apartheid by the Afrikaner-nationalist National Party, was dedicated to preserving the system of white rule indefinitely. Beginning in the 1980s the seams of the system became strained as unrest in the black townships increased and the international community began bearing down, causing South Africa to become increasingly isolated. The government, long self-conscious about their perception internationally, became even more so. The government was faced with a vexing paradox. If they wanted to maintain international legitimacy they had to allow the semblance of a free press. But as unrest increased, and the government reacted with harsh tactics, the information the press was able to access and transmit was causing South Africa to lose international legitimacy. The degree to which a free press helped the countrys image versus how much it hurt was not an entirely new issue. But in the mid-1980s the government decided that the current level of press freedom did more harm than good, and increased censorship and media restrictions severely.

Rosenfeld 3 History of Afrikaners in South Africa

Map of the British Cape Colony in 1906. Note the location of the Boer Republics in the eastern part of the land.1

After being settled by traders starting around 1650, what is now South Africa was passed from one European power to another before being colonized by the British Empire in 1795. Afrikaners, the ethnic group that ruled the country during Apartheid, are descended from Dutch, French and German settlers who arrived in the land from 16521795. The Afrikaners grew out of settlers who began to indentify as more African than European. The Afrikaners, or Boers as some Afrikaner farmers were known, were
"Cape Colony Map 1906." Probert Encyclopedia.

Rosenfeld 4 members of the conservative Dutch Calvinist Church. In the 1830s and 1840s the British began to assert more rigid control over their colony, leading thousands of Afrikaners to move north and form the Boer republics of The Northern Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal. These states were autonomous and free from British colonial rule, and the mass migration to them by the Afrikaners, known as the Great Trek, helped to reinforce a sense of an Afrikaner identity distinct from their previous ethnicities and nationalities. The migration away from British rule was about more than just a quest for religious freedom: it was a quest for cultural freedom. For the Afrikaners, cultural freedom meant the ability to enforce more discriminatory racial laws. Under British rule, Coloreds, as non-whites were known, had far less rights than whites. However, they were still able to access the legal system, and in theory to sue their white bosses. This upset the Afrikaners to the point of minor rebellion against the British in 1815.2 The British also embarked on a policy of Anglicization, seeking to create Britons out of the Dutch settlers through such actions as imposing English as the official language in schools and civic affairs.3 In addition to the cultural clashes, the Afrikaners and British faced off in multiple, lengthy military conflicts over territorial rights. All these things led the Afrikaners to become increasingly alienated from Western Europe. The Western Europe of the 1650s, when many of the settlers arrived in South Africa, bore little resemblance to Europe two-hundred years later. Religion had taken a backseat to nationalism as the central political focus of

The Rebellion of Slachters Neck occurred when a Afrikaner farmer was ordered to appear in court over repeated claims of mistreating his black workers. The farmer went on the run and was hunted down and killed by British troops. A group of fellow Afrikaner farmers swore revenge and attacked British forces before they were hunted down and killed or arrested. By some, the event was considered a seminal event in motivating Afrikaners to go on the Great Trek. "Slachter's Nek Rebellion." Somerset East. N.p., n.d. Web. 2012. < page_name=more&menu_id=1&submenu_id=26>. 3 Graham McPhee and Prem Podder, eds. Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective, 2nd ed, (London: Berghan Books, 2007): 60.

Rosenfeld 5 nations, Britain had overtaken the Netherlands as the primary military power, and the age of enlightenmentwhich flew in the face of the traditional religious beliefs of the Afrikanershad taken hold.4 The expulsion of the Dutch East India Company by the British in 1795 severed the single, tenuous tie that the Afrikaners maintained to their original homelands.5 When the Great Trek was complete, and the Afrikaner farmers were living on the frontier, the distance between them and Western Europeans became even greater. In fact, they were now living in an almost identical manner to the native Africans of the area, the Xhosa.6 The similarities between the two peoples became so strong, that as Donald Denoon writes in Southern Africa Since 1800, only race remained as a reliable distinction between the two communities.

History of Afrikaner Government

In reality, the Boer republics of the nineteenth-century were patriarchal societies based heavily on ancestral lineage and family clans.7 But they aspired to be something more. The earliest organized Afrikaner government shows the roots of the legalistic, yet immoral, system of Apartheid that was to take place in later years. The constitution of the Orange Free State, one of the four Boer republics, ratified in 1854, was modeled on the United States Constitution, with one caveatit only granted rights to white citizens.89 The

Donald Denoon, Balam Nyeko, and J.B. Webster., Southern Africa Since 1800, (New York: Praeger, 1972): 43. 5 George McCall Theal, History of South Africa Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company (1652-1795). Vol. 2. (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1897): 271-315. 6 Andrew Manson, "The Hurutshe and the Formation of the Transvaal State, 1835-1875." The International Journal of African Historical Studies 25.1 (1992): 85-98. 7 Elsie Cloete, "Afrikaner Identity: Culture, Tradition and Gender," Agenda 14 (1992): 42-56. 8 Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 52. 9 Roger B. Beck, The History of South Africa, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000): 73-75.

Rosenfeld 6 Greek-model of democracy was practiced in many of the republics through the volksraad, or the peoples assembly. The assemblies, though not always successful, were envisioned as a congress for the republics. Though often rigged, elections were held every four years for the republic presidents. So we see that from an early point, trappings of democracy masked what were otherwise non-democratic forms of governance.10 The republics suffered in abject poverty, a stark contrast from the British Cape province on the coast, which was began benefitting from the mining-boom of the 1870s.11 The Boer republics were also outpaced financially by neighboring African nations like the Zulu, Gaza, Ndebele and Xhona. These nations produced were essentially self-sufficient, and produced goods they were able to trade with Europeans for weapons and certain metals.12 In contrast, Denoon writes, the Boer republics, were attempting to run Europeanstyle government without European-style resources.13 In order to do this, the Afrikaners relied on coercing other races to support their economy. During the 1860s, the economies of the Boer republics were so weak that their farms could not pay attractive wages to whites, or even to the local Africans who were generally willing to work for less money.14 To solve this problem, the Boer governments brought indentured workers from India who had to work on the farms for long periods of time for menial pay. It was only in this wayon the backs of imported foreignersthat the republics were able to support an economy.15
10 11

Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 54. Leonard Guelke, "Frontier Settlement in Early Dutch South Africa." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66.1 Mar. (1976): 25-42. 12 Charles Ballard, "The Role of Trade and Hunter-Traders in the Political Economy of Natal and Zululand, 1824- 1880." African Economic History 10 (1981): 3-21. 13 Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa. 14 Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 60. 15 Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 64. Many of the Indians stayed in South Africa following the completion of the contracts and became successful merchants and an integral part of the economy, ironically surpassing even the Afrikaners who ostensibly controlled the republics

Rosenfeld 7 The British colonial government first allowed elections to take place in 1906 and though the British outnumbered the Afrikaners, British infighting was so great that they split their vote and the Afrikaners took control of the government.16 In 1910, the Union of South Africa was born as a dominion of the British Empire. This Union followed the end of the Second Boer War, fought between Afrikaners and the British. Despite the serious infighting among white groups, the whites were unified by what Denoon called, the assumption that Africans must not be given arms or rights. From 1890-1910 there were no less than ten major conflicts between the whites and Africans. Whites, despite their internal conflicts, concluded that a united front was the best way to head off threats from the Africans.17

Modern South Africa

The next major date in South African history, especially as it relates to apartheid, came in 1948, when a landmark election was held in South Africa. The conservative National Party, which played off of whites fears of blacks political ambitions and promised a system of strict racial separation, unseated the comparably liberal United Party, which had held power since 1933. The issues at hand in the election were two-fold. First, how closely to maintain ties with England. Second, whether to embrace apartheid, the formalized concept of racial discrimination that had been taking place in the land for at least 100 years. On the side of close ties to England and some minority-rights was the United Party, mainly backed by the English speakers. On the side of independence and
16 17

Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 107. Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 100.

Rosenfeld 8 apartheid was the National Party, backed by the Afrikaners. The United Party was expected to maintain power, as it had in previous elections. However, due to superior organization and a more energized campaign, the National Party won the election and easily maintained power until the fall of Apartheid in 1994.18 The National Party of 1948 was a product of several political parties merger. Its roots lay in J.B.M. Hertzogs National Party founded in 1914 to halt the Anglicization of the Afrikaners. Hertzogs party came to power in 1924 on a platform of independence from Britain and a stronger color barrier between whites and blacks in society.19 By World War II the National Party had formed a coalition with their United Party opposition, and Hertzog split from his party to form the Afrikaner Party in 1941. Shortly after taking power in the 1948 election, the National Party consolidated, absorbing the Afrikaner Party and passing legislation that formed the foundation of Apartheid, ensuring the minority of whites would control South Africas government, economy and society.20 Coming of age at the start of the Cold War, the National Party staked itself firmly in the capitalist camp. This tied it strategically to the Western world and allowed it to use fighting communism as an excuse to crush dissent. Religion was also a fundamental part of the partys platform, having passed a resolution in 1941 calling for, among other things, a free independent republic, based on a Christian-National foundation. Both communism and a moral code embedded in the conservative form of Christianity practiced by Afrikaners were used as

18 19

Denoon, Nyeko, and Webster, Southern Africa, 127. "National Party (NP)." Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. The Union of South Africa was a dominion of the British Empire until 1961. Post-1931 the country became mostly autonomous, being able to pass its own legislation, etc. However, lingering resentment over the treatment of Afrikaners at the hands of the British during the Boer Wars made full independence from the crown a priority of all Afrikaner governments until 1961. 20 "National Party (NP)." Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web.

Rosenfeld 9 excuses to clamp down on freedom of expression, and specifically as relevant to this paper, censor journalism.21 Democracy is commonly understood as a system of governance in which all the people of a country collectively determine who will lead them. Despite that from this understanding South Africa under apartheid was not democratic, the National Party always viewed itself as a legitimate Western government. Hendrik Verwoerd, who became Prime Minister in 1958, described Apartheid as a policy of good neighborliness while on a trip to England. South Africas government was earnest in its beliefs. Though authoritarian tendencies were very prevalent and dissidents, even white dissidents, were frequently jailed and opposition suppressed, the government wanted to maintain a regular democratic society for whites.

International Condemnation

International criticism of the South African government and its racist policies began immediately following the 1948 elections. As colonialism waned and Afro-Asian countries gained independence, opprobrium for Apartheid was swift in the international arena. The South African government knew they had no chance of winning over countries with majority black populations but they were worried about criticism from the West. Initially, the National Party was convinced that criticism from Western nations was not based on the facts of Apartheid.22 They thought any outside criticism was the result of communist propaganda coupled with Western countries desire to make friends with the newly

James Barber, South Africa's Foreign Policy 1945-1970 (London: Oxford University Press, 1973). Barber, Foreign Policy, 53.

Rosenfeld 10 independent former European colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that were particularly outraged at South Africas treatment of blacks.23 Nonetheless, international criticism bothered the government to no end. A report done ten years after the National Party came to power determined that international news coverage of South Africa was overwhelmingly critical. The report said only 11% of international coverage of South Africa was unbiased, while 75% was negative.24 The government had taken action to prevent criticism of the government shortly after coming to power, and following the report they redoubled their efforts to preserve their international reputation.25 The Suppression of Communist Act of 1950 was passed just two years after the National Party came to power. The act banned organizations that promoted communism, but it cast a wide net. Communism was defined as, that which aims at bringing about any political, industrial, social or economic change within the Union by the promotion of disturbances or disorders, by unlawful acts or omissions of the threat of such acts or omissions or by means which include the promotion of disturbances or disorders, or such acts or omissions or threats.26 The law meant that any call for changes to the core of apartheid could be labeled as communism and suppressed. The act was used to suppress all sorts of unions, political organizations and public figures speaking out against Apartheid and fueling the international medias criticism of the government. In addition to quelling criticism inside South Africa, since most of the Western world was


Barber, Foreign Policy, 53-54. Barber, Foreign Policy, 53. 25 Barber, Foreign Policy, 54. 26 D.S.K. Culhane, "No Easy Talk: South Africa and the Suppression of Political Speech," Fordham International Law Journal 17, no. 4 (1993): 303.

Rosenfeld 11 fighting against communism in the Cold War, the country could present the fight against anti-Apartheid forces as one against communism rather civil rights.27 Another censorship tactic the government used from early on was a quirk of South Africas friendly form of suppressing activists and dissent. People could be banned, meaning they couldnt be quoted in the press and they couldnt meet with multiple people at any one time.28 It was essentially a form of silencing them, a form of house arrest, that stopped short of throwing the person into prison or killing them. But organizations could also be banned, rendering that organization off-limits for coverage. In this way, South Africa could silence critics without throwing them in jail like totalitarian regimes did, and could stay on Western countries good side.

South Africa and the Western World

South Africa hoped the Western world would accept South Africa as an ally in the fight against communism.29 This did not altogether succeed, and the government came to realize that it actually was Apartheid, not a misunderstanding caused by communists, that was causing them to become a pariah state. But even after that realization, which had cemented by they did not give up trying to cultivate relationships with foreign countries.30 South Africa focused almost exclusively on cultivating relationships with Western countries, a trend that only accelerated as the years went by and the international

27 28

Barber, Foreign Policy, 54. Censorship and Apartheid in South Africa. (New York: Freedom to Write Committee PEN American Center, 1981).
29 30

Barber, Foreign Policy, 55. Barber, Foreign Policy, 56.

Rosenfeld 12 community at large became more hostile. In 1948, South Africa had embassies in four nonWestern states and eleven Western ones. By 1965, they had just two embassies in nonWestern states while increasing those in Western states to sixteen.31 Under Prime Minister John Voerster, South Africa attempted to decrease their international isolation in order to ensure stability and the security.32 Voerster did this specifically by reaching out to Latin American countries which were eager for new trading partners and, given their own splotchy human rights records and geographic distance from South Africa, less concerned about Apartheid. The attempt at diplomacy was quite effective, and Latin America was the only non-Western part of the world where South Africa increased its diplomatic missions between 1965-1979. But if Voerster, who served from 1966-1978, tried to put a friendly face on an immoral system, his successor had no such intentions. P.W. Botha, known as Die Groot Krokodil, or the big alligator, took over in 1978, serving until 1988 (later as president). Botha circled the wagons to fend off the threat of communism. This meant shifting the focus primarily from international legitimacy and shifting to maintaining close, or close enough, ties solely with Western countries.33 There should be no question that the apartheid-era governments were fighting desperately for international approval, though they mostly failed at this effort. As A.J Christopher writes in The Pattern of Diplomatic Sanctions against South Africa 1948-1994, The major breakthrough in international acceptance which had been so assiduously sought during the apartheid era came with the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela But despite the failure of South Africas

A.J Christopher, "The Pattern of Diplomatic Sanctions against South Africa 19481994." GeoJournal 34.4 Dec. (1994): 441. 32 Christopher, Diplomatic Sanctions, 441. 33 Christopher, Diplomatic Sanctions, 441.

Rosenfeld 13 foreign policy at achieving international legitimacy pre-Mandela, the self-consciousness that these efforts nonetheless put on the government made for more press freedom than one would otherwise expect from an undemocratic regime.

Partial Freedom

Censorship was rampant during Apartheid, and not only was the information received by South African citizens restricted, but so was much of the information broadcast by international media. But through all this censorshipa hallmark of most oppressive regimesone fact stands out: right up until the fall of Apartheid in 1994, despite all the crackdowns, all the suspensions of newspapers, jailing of editors and emergency declarations, subversive news continued to be published. Reporters Without Borders, an organization that fights for press freedom across the world and releases a Press Freedom Index annually, has said that absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, are where the worst restrictions on press freedom occur. South Africa was never such a thing. South Africa during Apartheid was essentially split into two countries. White South Africa and black South Africa. Black South Africa was a totalitarian state mostly bereft of civil liberties. This entirely anti-democratic part of South Africa existed in stark contrast to white South Africa, which was quasi-democratic and attempted to walk a fine line between maintaining the undemocratic, racist and authoritarian system of Apartheid, and maintaining the trappings of a conventional Western democracy. Often this was not such a difficult thing to do. Since the majority of whites supported Apartheid, free elections could be held, for whites, with the National Party easily remaining in power. The government

Rosenfeld 14 could pass various laws democratically, that while undemocratically oppressed a portion of the population (non-whites), were supported by the electorate and progressed through parliament and the legislative system according to established democratic norms. There was consistently a strong opposition in the government, voted in by liberal whites, that spoke eloquently against Apartheid and was a thorn in the side of the National Party while still being unable to take down Apartheid. There was an independent judiciary that occasionally struck down elements of Apartheid. There was vibrant intellectual debate in universities and professors who spoke out against the government were not carted off to gulags as in Soviet Russia. All these elements of democracy were important to the whites in power because they viewed their country as part of the advanced Western nations. And as stated above, this mode of whites-only democracy worked, because most whites tacitly or overtly agreed to this system. The place where this attempt at white-democracy faltered was with freedom of expression, especially the media. Throughout Apartheid, literature and the press were censored. But it was near impossible to completely and unilaterally shut down newspapers, or turn away television cameras, while maintaining the appearance of democracy. Thus South Africa had a living, breathing, civil society. Its breathing was labored and the government would occasionally come and break its legs, but the story of press censorship tells one much about the motives of the South African Apartheid regime. South Africas

history, through the Afrikaner lens, is one of whites forming a proud and advanced civilization on a dark continent. While this was the claim of many a colonial power, the Afrikaners in South Africa were different. They did not view themselves as European, and therefore South Africa was not supposed to be an extension of their European homeland.

Rosenfeld 15 South Africa was certainly colonized by the British, but many of the blacks who eventually came to make up the majority of white-ruled South Africa were no more indigenous to the land than the Afrikaners. Most of white South had deceived themselves into believing that they were, more than anything, misunderstood rather than racist or undemocratic. This deception mandated that white society function similarly to Western democracies. Whites could deceive themselves by staying away from the black townships and not asking too many questions about Apartheid. But if their daily lives did not resemble that of their Western counterparts, they would not be able to ignore it. So because their population demanded it, and because they needed to show a good face to the international, especially Western, community, South Africa maintained a parliament, an independent judiciary and some sort of a free press. The South African government worked to keep their public ignorant of the censorship that existed and consistently said that it had a free press. South Africa not only told its own population that it had a free press, but it told this to the world.34 In fact, the editor of the Weekly Mail, a prominent anti-Apartheid newspaper, said that the newspaper knew it could get away with publishing more provocative material if sanctions against South Africa were about to come before the United States Congress. The South African government was loath to censor during those times and risk angering their America ally.35 So the Apartheid regime realized they had to allow some freedom of the press in order to protect their international legitimacy. However, there was no question that it was the press, especially the international press, that was mobilizing the world to act against Apartheid


Bryan Trabold, ""Hiding Our Snickers": "Weekly Mail" Journalists' Indirect Resistance in Apartheid South Africa." College English 68.4 Mar. (2006): 399. 35 Trabold, Snickers, 401.

Rosenfeld 16 and through that, against the South African government.36 The South African government was thus caught in a vexing paradox: crackdown on the press and lose international legitimacy for being undemocratic, or allow the press to expose the brutal tactics being used to suppress opposition to Apartheid and lose international legitimacy for that. Censorship during Apartheid was ever present, but it increased and decreased depending on the situation in the black townships. The more protests and subsequent crackdowns, the more censorship. The mid-eighties saw greater restrictions than ever before. The eighties were a time of great civil unrest in South Africa as international pressure and domestic issues emboldened blacks in townships to rise against the government, and the crackdowns on uprisings fueled more international condemnation. The government decided the need to stop the world from seeing what was going on inside South Africa was worth taking flack for impinging on press freedom. The notion that South Africa under Apartheid had one hundred censorship laws is oft-cited.37 How this number is reached depends on what you consider censorship, how you count laws and revisions of laws, and other variables, but the concept is sound: South Africa had a laundry list of laws severely restricting press freedom. A list drawn from a one produced by the Johannesburg Star and published in 1980 is available at the end of the paper.38 Such an extensive set of detailed legislation restricting the press in a country is rare. In most countries with a restricted press, the restrictions arent passed in parliament. Rather, theyre executed arbitrarily by government thugs or other pressure groups. South Africa wanted to maintain rule of law, both because their citizenry expected it, and so they

Maria Karagianis, "The Rand Daily Mail Closes Its Doors: A Journalist Looks Back on Her Tenure at South Africa's Leading White Liberal Newspaper." Boston Globe Magazine, May 5, 1985, 12. 37 Trabold, Snickers, 382. 38 Censorship and Apartheid.

Rosenfeld 17 could show the world that South Africa was a modern, civilized country. Individually, most of the censorship laws are justifiable on their face. The government could tell the Western world, which tended to demand freedom of expression as a prerequisite to friendship, that the press was free to publish as long as it stayed within the law. In reality, the laws were vague and meant to encourage self-censorship. One editor described editing a South African newspaper in 1980 as walking through a minefield blindfolded.39

Censorship in the Eighties

It was on top of these laws that multiple states of emergency were declared by Pretoria during the 1980s, as rioting in the townships increased. During these states of emergency, the executive branch of the government was able to act without parliamentary approval against the media. While the emergency regulations were effective in their basic goal of stopping coverage of the unrest, the South African government gave up much legitimacy in the eyes of the world to enact them. David Dison, the lead in-house attorney for the Weekly Mail, the flagship white anti-Apartheid newspaper of eighties, explained that prior to the state of emergency, the Apartheid government had the kind of trappings of a legitimate regime. There was law and legalism, there was defamation, there were statutes. Okay, there were statutes about communism and promoting unlawful organizations and that kind of thing, but it was very difficult for them to censor information per se. All that changed in 1984. As the eighties progressed more restrictions were put on the press. Beginning in 1985 and stretching through the end of the decade, the government employed new means

Censorship and Apartheid, 22.

Rosenfeld 18 of restricting the press. After months of protest in the black townships, the first state of emergency was declared in June, 1984. One of the most important regulations passed under emergency law was the ban on publishing subversive statements. The broad description of what made for a subversive statement included everything from encouraging the public to dodge compulsory military service, to encouraging workers to strike, to encouraging people to boycott a business.40 However, the regulation wasnt imposed solely on the newspapers editorial voice. Newspapers were banned from publishing about anyone advocating for these things, essentially halting coverage of the anti-Apartheid movement within the country, and since the new regulations applied to the foreign press as well, in the world at large. In December, 1986, the Newspapers Press Union, which included South Africas four major newspaper chains, was pressured by the government to apply more selfcensorship when it came to criticism of the government. A statement was released by the organization through the prime ministers office read in part, The press union fully realizes that South Africa is being subjected to a many-pronged but well-coordinated revolutionary onslaught. We accept the need to do everything in our power to avoid giving support and encouragement to those seeking revolutionary change by overt as well as covert means.41 This came after South Africas largest media outlets set up their own Media Council in 1983 under pressure from the government, to impose censure upon their own members who violated the censorships laws.42

40 41

Trabold, Snickers, 387. Michael Parks, "Pretoria Moving Toward Stricter Curbs on the Press," Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1986. 42 Parks, "Stricter Curbs.

Rosenfeld 19 This willingness to go along with government demands did not appease Prime Minister Botha. In late January, 1986, the South African police were given sweeping permission to censor all media.43 This control came on top of laws already on the books that restricted reporting on subversive statements, security force actions, the treatment of political detainees and boycotts or peaceful protests. When it came to security force actions, reporters were specifically prohibited from covering any political disturbances in person, they could only report on them using information provided by the government.44 The restrictions on the press did not stop with granting the police censorship power, and 1986 would be just the beginning of the Botha administrations crackdown on the press. In addition to the new police powers and the restrictions on reporting on security actions, in August, 1987 Home Affairs Minister Stoffel Botha was granted the ability to close any newspaper believed to be fanning revolution for up to three months.45 In June, 1988, the government went even further, making it illegal to quote members of restricted antiapartheid organizations or their spokesmen. At the same time the new restrictions were announced, the state of emergency was extended by Prime Minister Botha. While censorship had been severe pre-1988, there had often been ways to get around it. But following this second declaration of national emergency, the government began shutting newspapers left and right. The first newspaper to go was The New Nation, a Catholic Church-funded publication accused of fermenting revolution. The New Nation, which had a circulation of about 35,000 and was widely considered the most genuine voice of South


Michael Parks, "South Africa Police Given Most Sweeping Press Controls Yet," Los Angeles Times, January 30, 1987. 44 Parks, "Sweeping Press Controls. 45 Adrian Croft, "Threats of Censorship Bode Ill for South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Press," Los Angeles Times 10 Jan. 1988.

Rosenfeld 20 Africas blacks, became the first newspaper closed by the government since 1977.46 The Weekly Mail was closed for a month by the government in November, 1988.47 In early 1989, the government threatened four more publications with closure: Work in Progress, a leftist monthly magazine known for its sharp political analysis; Grassroots, a newspaper popular in the mixed-race townships outside Cape Town; New Era, a monthly publication of the arts department at the University of Cape Town; and Al Qalam, an anti-Apartheid Muslim weekly.48 What accounted for this rapid increase in censorship? South Africa, as previously stated, wanted to maintain close ties with Western nations. Part of appealing to Western countries was having a free press. International media reported from South Africa, and for most of its history South Africa had had a vibrant, albeit somewhat restricted, press. The government was always asking if what the newspapers reported hurt the country more than getting rid of them would. In general the government decided to let the newspapers publish some critical stories and editorials, just not too many. But in 1984 a new constitution was passed by the Botha government giving political rights to Coloreds (mixed-race individuals) and Indians. It was couched as a reform of Apartheid by the government, but many saw it as an entrenchment of Apartheid. Blacks were especially angered at still being excluded from theses reforms and in September, the Vaal Triangle Riots began.49 Riots in Cape Town and elsewhere in South Africa broke out as well. The government cracked down with police and military forces. Tens of black protesters were killed and hundreds

John D Battersby, "South Africa, Invoking Curbs, Shuts Black Paper," The New York Time, March, 1988. 47 Christopher Wren, "Pretoria Bars Major Opposition Newspaper for Month," The New York Times, November 2, 1988. 48 John D. Battersby, "South Africa Moves to Curb 3 More Journals," The New York Times, January 12, 1989. ProQuest. 49 The Vaal Triangle was an area 40 miles outside of Johannesburg where white towns and black towns met.

Rosenfeld 21 arrested.50 The riots marked the beginning of a new period of unrest in South Africa, one much larger than any previous. The Botha administration decided that cracking down on the unrest was more important than maintaining a democratic image and decided to impose the states of emergency. Following emergency law being enacted the regulation prohibiting coverage of security force action was passed. Prior to this regulation, the images of white officers savagely beating back black protesters were working to destroy the credibility of the Apartheid regime. The regulation was effective and coverage of the unrest was essentially stopped.51 Despite the censorship and crackdowns on the press detailed above, newspapers like the Weekly Mail and The Rand Daily Mail were able to publish material the government found objectionable. The Rand Daily Mail was the most liberal of the mainstream newspapers in South Africa during Apartheid. Published out of Johannesburg, it was the voice of South Africas English, who were significantly more liberal and opposed to Apartheid than the Afrikaners. Until its demise in 1985, the newspaper would editorialize against Apartheid policies, conduct investigative reporting and expose various government wrong-doing. In that sense, it was a newspaper in the mold of what one would expect in a healthy democracy. Simultaneously, the government council assigned to monitor the press was constantly harassing reporters and editors at the paper in a very undemocratic manner. Phones were bugged, the staff was convinced that South African police had infiltrated the paper to spy, and self-censorship was a routine practice. A thick book given to all reporters told what they could and couldnt publish. For example, they couldnt publish anything about military affairs without the explicit approval of the

Alan Cowell, "14 Die in Riots in Black Areas of South Africa," The New York Times, September 4, 1984. 51 Trabold, "Snickers, 386.

Rosenfeld 22 military. They also couldnt cover anything that had been banned by the government. The list of banned people, organizations, books, magazines and journals was so rapidly expanding that it was inevitable that some reporter at some point would slip up and be forced to defend themselves in front of the government press council. This contributed to rampant self-censorshipdeclining to question the governments repeated assertions that communists and foreign interests were behind every township uprising, for example and hampered the newspapers operation since its editors were constantly preparing to testify before the press council. For all its courage and defiance of implicit government demands not to criticize the government, the Daily Mail had its flaws. A former reporter, reflecting on her years at the paper in an article for Boston Globe Magazine, wrote, Not once while I was there did the Mail call for true democracy in South Africa. The paper had black reporters and employees, but it had segregated bathrooms and dining facilities. It held promotional events in whites-only areas of Johannesburg and most white employees of the paper lived comfortably in whites-only suburbs with black servants. All this at the most liberal, widely-read, newspaper in South Africa. But for all these flaws, which are not without qualification, the former reporter added in the article that if the newspaper had called for outright democracy the newspaper would have immediately been shut down and everyone arrested, it still did much of what a newspaper is supposed to do in a democratic society. It did an expose on the treatment of black prisoners by the government (leading to a banning of the coverage of prisons) and exposed improper actions of the Voerster administration, leading to the end of his time as Prime Minister. While they werent able to criticize Apartheid as forcefully as a truly free newspaper could have, former reporter John

Rosenfeld 23 Matisson put it well when he said, While the Mail was alive, you really could not argue that South Africans did not know the truththey were getting it with their breakfast.52

The Fall of Free Apartheid-Era Media

It may be the downfall of the Daily Mail that shows another reality of how the South African press was suppressed during Apartheid. The Daily Mail, which had a readership of nearly two-thirds black, and a respectable circulation of 115,000, shut down in 1985 after having lost millions of dollars over the several preceding years.53 Beginning in the 1970s and accelerating into the 1980s, unrest in black townships grew tremendously. The government started employing police state tactics to suppress the unrest, leading to the heart-rending images that turned the world against South Africa. But as the world turned against South Africa, white South Africans united. The center-left disappeared in the country as whites became more conservative. As they became more conservative they no longer wanted to read the Daily Mails criticism of the government. They were scared and wanted reassurance that their way of life was stable and morally sound, not condemnation and calls for empowerment of the blacks. Whites began cancelling their subscriptions to the Daily Mail just as the states of emergency began, and the government became more harsh. So it was that the leading voice of liberal South Africa was shut down due to lack of popular demand. This reality ties back to how the National Party was able to continue being fairly elected by the whites-only electorate: they were what the people wanted. White South Africans may have wanted a free press in principle.
52 53

Karagianis, "The Rand Daily Mail," 12. "South Africa's Rand Daily Mail to cease publication," Houston Chronicle, March 16, 1985.

Rosenfeld 24 But in reality, they did not want to read about the terrible things their government was doing. The government only had to do so much censoring: by the mid-1980s white South Africa simply would not support a high-circulation liberal press. Outside the mainstream press, there were many small-circulation publications catering to the small group of left-wing whites and to readers in the black townships. These publications, especially those in the townships, probably provided the government with the most worry. The Daily Mail kept an informed citizenry, and consistently put pressure on the government, but it never aimed to ferment revolution. In contrast, many of the antiApartheid publications in townships were doing just that. While the editors of the Daily Mail were against Apartheid, they were comfortable with the status quo. They were waited on by black servants at their homes in tony Johannesburg suburbs and it is unclear that they truly wished for black-majority rule. In contrast, newspapers put out by avowed antiApartheid activists, though they may have been technically prevented from calling for outright democracy, certainly wished for it at heart. They were also willing, in a way that mainstream papers were not, of fueling the anger of the thousands of blacks in the townships who were increasingly rebelling against the government and its security forces. Indeed, the newspapers catering to black township residents were, in the words of Aggrey Klaaste, editor of the largest-circulation black daily, the Sowetan, a primary way of voicing their anger. For black people, papers like ours are the only kind of avenue where they can vent some of their deeply held feelings, and now its going to be stopped, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1988.54 While Klaaste believed that shutting down the alternative press would cap a release valve for black anger, the government seemed convinced that it was in

Adrian Croft, "Threats of Censorship Bode Ill for South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Press," Los Angeles Times, January 10. 1988.

Rosenfeld 25 fact fueling that anger, and moved to crackdown on the press in earnest. Still operating through formal, legalistic measures, throughout the late 1980s the government, empowered by the state of emergency declared in 1986, issued numerous warnings and shut down or suspended many anti-Apartheid newspapers. Part of the transformation during the mid-1980s in terms of censorship can be seen in the way the international media was treated. While the government could suspend South African newspapers and in extreme cases jail their staff, they had no such power over the international media. Though scared by the unrest in their country, the South African government was not going to attack foreign journalists, and had long left them alone to do their reporting. However, it was the international media that was causing the most consternation for the Apartheid government. As discussed, the white citizenry at large had little interest in reading about the ills of Apartheid, and while the subversive newspapers on the political left and right might ferment revolution within the country, they were certainly not galvanizing foreign nations to pass sanctions against South Africa. It was newspapers like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, and broadcasters such as the BBC, ABC, CBS and NBC that bothered the government the most. As part of the general crackdown on the media that began in 1984, the Botha administration began passing regulations that effected international media as well, in a lastditch effort to restrict images and descriptions of the harsh crackdown. Television stations were banned from broadcasting live. No reporting on security actions was allowed unless it was based on information released by the South African Bureau for Information.55 The New York Times published a description of the restrictions at the end of one 1987 article about censorship: Editors Note: South African press restrictions now prohibit journalists from

Peter J. Boyer, "Networks Cite Pressure for Self-Censorship," The New York Times, June 18, 1986.

Rosenfeld 26 transmitting dispatches on any security actions, protests, detentions or subversive statements without clearance by Government censors.56 The Times apparently failed to meet this standard and their primary correspondent in South Africa was expelled from the country without any formal explanation in early 1987.57


It is hard to gauge the effectiveness of the governments mid-decade crackdown on the media, domestic and international. Apartheid was on its last legs by the early nineties and had fallen entirely by 1994. Would this have happened faster if the media had not been so restricted for the last few years of Apartheid? Would it have happened slower had they been banned from covering any of the crackdown? Indeed, heavy coverage in 1984 helped turn the world squarely against South Africa, so perhaps the restrictions were too late. But that ignores the central question of which was more likely to hasten white-ruled South Africas demise: elimination of freedom of expression, or freedom of expression? In a farewell piece to South Africa published just weeks after his expulsion from the country, the Times journalist Alan Cowell wrote of the mid-eighties media restrictions imposed by the government, In ruling by emergency decree and stifling any legitimate expression, the Government has acknowledged that its authority can be perpetuated only by force of arms, and has, therefore, tacitly acknowledged it to be illegitimate. Therein, I think, lies the answer to South Africas paradox. So long as they let themselves be covered by the media, the world would let them explain their moral sins away. As long as the facts were laid out
56 57

Alan Cowell, "Cabinet Official Defines Apartheid Law," The New York Times, January 5, 1987. Alan Cowell, "A Farewell to South Africa," The New York Times Magazine, January 25, 1987.

Rosenfeld 27 for the world to see, they could have their day in court. But once they resorted to hiding behind censorship, they werent left a leg to stand on, and then it was simply a matter of time before it all came crashing down.


Censorship Laws During Apartheid Electoral Consolidation Act (1946): Every report, letter, article, bill, placard, poster, pamphlet, circular, cartoon or other printed matter which is intended or likely to

Rosenfeld 28 affect the result of an election or by-election to the House of Assembly or provincial council must bear the name and address of the person who has written or produced it. Commissions Act (1947): This provided for regulations that can place wide-ranging curbs on press coverage of the work of commissions. Prevented the media from attending sittings of commissions or accessing the records of commissions and laid out penalties for the publication of information regarding commission doings. Righteous Assemblies and Suppression of Communism Act No. 15; later called the Internal Security Act (1950): A passed shortly after the National Party came to power. There was some legitimate cause for the country to worry about communist influence as the Communist Party of South Africa was an active political organization and there were various public figures advocating for communism. However, the majority of white South Africa were religiously conservative and unlikely to be swayed by the influence of fringe communists. The law allowed the government to ban organizationslike the CPSAand public figures that supported or promoted communist from operating or seeking public office. Furthermore, it allowed the banning of publications that promoted communism. However, the definition of communist was so wide as to include any call for what could be considered radical change. Thus, in later years, the act was used to suppress groups calling for an end to Apartheidcertainly a radical change. Radio Act (1952): Made it an offence to publish a radio communication which a person is not authorized to receive. This meant that unlike in Western countries, where many newspapers monitor ambulance, fire department and police radio signals, South African media was prohibited from doing so. Criminal Law Amendment Act (1953): Newspapers were banned from editorially supporting campaigns against laws wherein the campaign violated the law. Therefore, if a person gave a speech in support of overturning that law, and a court later found the speech subversive and in violation of the law, a newspaper that had supported the campaign could be held liable. Criminal Procedure Act (1955): Journalists were required to turn over their sources if asked to do so by a court, and were jailed if they refused. Official Secrets Act (1956): Made it an offence to communicate anything relating to munitions of war or any military, police or security matter to any persons or for any purse prejudicial to the safety of the interests of South Africa. This meant any newspaper publishing confidential information that could conceivably be used by an enemy of the state was in violation of the law. Law also permitted court proceedings to take place behind closed doors. Defence Act (1957): Prohibited coverage of military or naval action without the express given consent of the Minster of Defense or other authorized individual. Also prohibited, the publication, without permission, of any statement, comment or rumour relating to any member of the SA Defence Force or any force of a foreign country, calculated to prejudice or embarrass the Government in its foreign relations or to alarm or depress members of the public. The Prison Act (1959 & 1965): Following an expose on treatment of black prisoners by the Rand Daily Mail, this act was passed putting such a heavy burden

Rosenfeld 29 of proof on publications when writing about prison conditions that reporting on the subject was nearly completely stopped. Hotels Act (1965): Prohibited newspapers from knowingly publish false information about a hotel. Atomic Energy Act (1967): Prohibited newspapers from publishing information about the South African nuclear program. Terrorism Act (1967): Stories, letters to the editor, advertisements, columns and leading articles could not contain matter which aided, advised or encouraged people to commit terrorism, as defined by the Act. Gathering and Demonstrations Act (1973): Prohibited publishing information about an event banned by the government under the Act. The Publications Act (1974): Established a censorship board which reviewed books, magazines and newspapers and determined what was fit for print. Petroleum Products Amendment Act (1978): Prohibited publishing without permission any information related to the petroleum industry in South Africa. Electoral Act (1979): Prohibited conducting opinion polls after nomination day in an election to the House of Assembly or a provincial council or the publishing after nomination day of the results of any opinion poll conducted beforehand. Police Amendment Act (1979): Prohibited publishing falls information about the police without reasonable grounds for believing it was true. The burden of proof was put on the publisher of information.


Ballard, Charles. "The Role of Trade and Hunter-Traders in the Political Economy of Natal and Zululand, 1824- 1880." African Economic History 10 (1981): 3-21. Barber, James. South Africa's Foreign Policy 1945-1970. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Rosenfeld 30

Battersby, John D. "South Africa, Invoking Curbs, Shuts Black Paper," The New York Times, March, 1988. "South Africa Moves to Curb 3 More Journals." The New York 1989. Times, January 12,

"Anti-Apartheid Paper Fights Government for Its Right to Fight." The New York Times, May 10, 1988. Beck, Roger B. The History of South Africa. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. Boyer, Peter J. "Networks Cite Pressure for Self-Censorship." The New York Times, June 18, 1986. Censorship and Apartheid in South Africa. New York: Freedom to Write Committee PEN American Center, 1981. Christopher, A.J. "The Pattern of Diplomatic Sanctions against South Africa 19481994." GeoJournal 34.4 Dec. (1994). Claiborne, William. "South Africa Tightens Censorship; Curb Aimed at Foes of Apartheid Policy." The Washington Post, June 11, 1988. Cloete, Elsie. "Afrikaner Identity: Culture, Tradition and Gender." Agenda 14 (1992): 4256. Conway, Daniel. "Queering Apartheid: The National Party's 1987 'Gay Rights' Election Campaign in Hillbrow." Journal of Southern African Studies 35, no. 4 (2009): 849-863. Cowell, Alan. "Cabinet Official Defines Apartheid Law." The New York Times, January 5, 1987. "A Farewell to South Africa." The New York Times Magazine, January 25, 1987. "14 Die in Riots in Black Areas of South Africa." The New York Times, September 4, 1984. Croft, Adrian. "Threats of Censorship Bode Ill for South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Press." Los Angeles Times, January 10, 1988.

Rosenfeld 31 Culhane, D.S.K. "No Easy Talk: South Africa and the Suppression of Political Speech." Fordham International Law Journal 17, no. 4 (1993) Denoon, Donald, Balam Nyeko, and J.B. Webster. Southern Africa Since 1800. New York: Praeger, 1972. Fairbanks, Eve. "Johannesburg's Most Wanted." The New York Times, January 26, 2012, sec. M. Guelke, Leonard. "Frontier Settlement in Early Dutch South Africa." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66.1 Mar. (1976): 25-42. Karagianis, Maria. "The Rand Daily Mail Closes Its Doors: A Journalist Looks Back on Her Tenure at South Africa's Leading White Liberal Newspaper." Boston Globe Magazine, May 5, 1985. Manson, Andrew. "The Hurutshe and the Formation of the Transvaal State, 18351875." The International Journal of African Historical Studies 25.1 (1992): 85-98 McPhee, Graham, and Podder, Prem, eds. Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective. London: Berghan Books, 2007. McCall, George Theal. History of South Africa Under the Administration of the Dutch East India Company (1652-1795). Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1897. Merrett, Christopher. "A Tale of Two Paradoxes: Media Censorship in South Africa, PreLiberation and Post-Apartheid."Critical Arts: A South-North Journal of Cultural & Media Studies 15, no. 1&2 (2001): 50-68. "National Party (NP)." Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. Parks, Michael, "Pretoria Moving Toward Stricter Curbs on the Press." Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1986. "S. Africa Censorship Rules Invalidated by High Court; Government Appeal." Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1987. "South Africa Police Given Most Sweeping Press Controls Yet." Los Times, January 30, 1987. Plans Angeles

Peffer, John. Art and the End of Apartheid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. Schraeder, Peter J. "South Africa's Foreign Policy: From international pariah to leader of the African renaissance." The Round Table (2001): 229-243.

Rosenfeld 32 Robinson, John. "Sanctions: A Sense of Inevitability in Congress." Boston Globe, August 10, 1986. "Slachter's Nek Rebellion." Somerset East. N.p., n.d. Web. 2012. < 1&submenu_id=26>. "South Africa's Rand Daily Mail to cease publication." Houston Chronicle, March 16, 1985. Thurow, Roger. "South Africa Regime Uses Doublespeak to Make Repression Sound Democratic." Wall Street Journal, December 18, 1986. Trabold, Bryan. ""Hiding Our Snickers": "Weekly Mail" Journalists' Indirect Resistance in Apartheid South Africa." College English 68.4 Mar. (2006). Ungar, Sanford J., and Peter Vale. "South Africa: Why Constructive Engagement Failed." Foreign Affairs (1985): 235-258. Vandenbosch, Amry. South Africa and the World: The Foreign Policy of Apartheid. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1970. Wren, Christopher. "Pretoria Bars Major Opposition Newspaper for Month." The New York Times, November 2, 1988. Zucchino, David. "Leading Anti-apartheid Weekly is Banned By S. African Censor." Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2, 1988. "South Africa Clamps Down On The 'Wrong Kind of News'." Philadelphia Inquirer, May 29, 1988.