South Africa votes amid corruption and rampant abuse of power

Two years ago, South Africa was named the most unequal country in the world in a World Bank report. This in a country where apartheid was dismantled 30 years ago. As the country goes to the polls on 29 May, inequality is proving to be at the heart of the debate which is stoking claims that freedom of expression is under threat.

Arthur Shopola, a lecturer in the Department of Public Administration and Local Government at South Africa’s North West University, says nothing has changed since the World Bank report and that failure to deliver for the electorate is due to ineffective leadership and poor management of public resources, corruption as well as maladministration.

He said South African citizens continue to enjoy some rights brought about by the democratic regime, particularly universal suffrage, but the ballot has not translated into the tangible results that people yearn for.

“Poverty, high levels of unemployment and inequality remain pressing issues for ordinary South Africans,” Shopola told Index.

Crucially, the land question remains unaddressed, he said.

“The right to equality is an area that the state has failed to promote. Also, everyone has a right to access clean water. This is one of the rights that SA has dismally failed. Just recently, over 100 people in Hamanskraal (Gauteng province) were admitted and many died because they were supplied with unclean water. There are many people in various parts of the country who still drink and wash clothes from the rivers. It’s sad,” he added.

Earlier this month, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), released an advertisement featuring the burning of the South African national flag. President Cyril Ramaphosa criticised the advert, telling the BBC: “South Africans are more educated, empowered and healthier than they were under apartheid,” and people must not threaten that progress.

South Africa’s national broadcaster banned the advertisement, sparking outrage among freedom of expression advocates who said it sets a dangerous precedent. They also contended that the Constitutional Court has recognised that the right to freedom of expression is not limited to statements that are moderate and inoffensive, but extends to those that offend, shock or disturb.

DA leader John Steenhuisen, in a speech delivered on 9 May, said the advertisement is the most successful political advertisement in South Africa’s democratic history – with over four millions views online and millions more on radio and TV. He said it symbolises “how South Africa’s flag, Constitution and future would burn to ashes if voters allow destructive populists to seize power”.

Steenhuisen also condemned the banning of the advert.

“This attack on free speech and suppression of the opposition only confirms the urgency of the DA’s warning contained in the ad. The ANC’s clampdown on freedom of speech to protect itself from criticism is but a small foretaste of what is to come under the ANC/EFF Doomsday Coalition, which will burn our flag, burn our democracy and burn our economy to the ground,” he said.

Steenhuisen talked of the hardships that ordinary South Africans now face – the single mother struggling to put food on the table for her children, the unemployed father who has lost his job because the ANC destroyed the economy and the young graduate who has been reduced to begging on street corners.

The alarm over the possible direction of South Africa is not only shared by South Africans in general or the DA in particular. Vitalis Dhokwani, a Zimbabwean living in South Africa since 2018 after fleeing economic ruin back home, said there are tell-tale signs that the country could head in the direction of Zimbabwe. Dhokwani said South Africa is going through what Zimbabwe went through: corruption by political elites, abuse of the law, lack of accountability and transparency. He said there are similarities between Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, and South Africa’s ANC, both liberation parties who have betrayed promises of independence.

“People’s spending power has gone down and the cost of living has gone up. Health services were free to everyone but now even locals are paying,” said Dhokwani.

“South Africa is going the same way Zimbabwe went: corruption, rampant abuse of power. I really feel you can’t separate the ANC and Zanu-PF. These revolution parties abuse the tag of revolution parties. Just because they liberated the country does not mean they must make themselves rich while the poor get poorer.”

He criticised political parties who blame immigrants for South Africa’s problems. Dhokwani said South Africa is suffering from misgovernance and corruption from the people who were put in office.

“We can’t blame immigrants for failure of councils. How can one blame foreigners on service deliveries from council? Generally most immigrants are not formally employed they do self-employed jobs and some immigrants have even created for employment for locals as jobs are hard to come by,” he said.

In a statement on 6 May, Human Rights Watch said the scapegoating and demonising of foreign nationals by candidates in South Africa’s general elections risks stoking xenophobic violence. The human rights watchdog detailed a number of cases in which South African politicians had promoted hate against immigrants. It said candidates were pushing a narrative not just that migration is out of control, but blaming undocumented migrants for the country’s ills and engaging in xenophobia.

Shopola, the public administration lecturer, said politicians blaming immigrants were embarking on an opportunistic theorisation of the problems facing SA. “It’s a misdiagnosis. My worry with that theorisation is that it is loaded with hatred, not only hatred but self-hate and disingenuousness by those who push the narrative,” he said.

“What is failing is the laws and systems put in place to attend to issues of land, employment and the economy which is still in the hands of the few.”

Nelson Mandela International Day: Index remembers apartheid-era South Africa

Mandela Day - Ubuntu Festival 15 -18 July 2011

Index  has released a special collection of apartheid-era articles from the Index on Censorship magazine archives to celebrate Nelson Mandela day 2016. Holly Raiborn has selected the collection, tracing the breadth of writing during the apartheid era from authors both in the country and in exile. The articles selected trace the history of this period in South Africa’s history. Significant South African writers, including Nadine Gordimer, Don Mattera, Pieter-Dirk Uys and Desmond Tutu, discuss the impacts this era of oppression had on themselves, their peers and their country. The collection will now form a reading list available to students who are researching the apartheid years, and will be available via Sage Publishing in university libraries.

Before 1948 “apartheid” was just a word in Afrikaans with a simple meaning: separateness. However, over the course of the next 50 years, the word “apartheid” would take on a new level of significance. The connotation of the word grew darker with every dissident banned, prisoner tortured, child left uneducated and home destroyed. Apartheid is no longer just a word; it carries the history of brutality, censorship and maltreatment of South Africans. For a limited period, Index and Sage are making the collection free to non-subscribers.  For those who want to study the history of censorship further,  Index on Censorship magazine’s archives are held at the Bishopsgate Institute in London and are free to visit.

Nadine Gordimer, Apartheid and “The Primary Homeland”
1972; vol. 1, 3-4: pp. 25-29

An address regarding the 1972 plans of the South African government to abolish the right of appeal against decisions brought by the State Publications Control Board, effectively ridding writers of a means to combat the rulings of government-appointed censors. The censorship in South Africa at this time caused a breakdown in communication between “the sections of a people carved up into categories of colour and language.”

Frene Ginwala, The press in South Africa
1973; vol. 2, 3: pp. 27-43

An extensive report on the state of the “free” press in South Africa prepared for the United Nations’ Unit on Apartheid in November 1972. Ginwala posits that apartheid attempts to segregate freedom and this attempt “extinguishes freedom itself”.

Robert Royston, A tiny, unheard voice: The writer in South Africa
1973; vol. 2, 4: pp. 85-88

A personal narrative reflecting the experiences of Robert Royston as a black poet in South Africa during a period of popularity for black poetry amongst white readers. Royston describes a disconnect between the language he speaks and the language understood by the government and white citizens, although they technically share the same tongue.

Jack Slater, South African Boycott: Helping to enforce apartheid?
1975; vol. 4, 4: pp. 32-34

An article by a New York Sunday Times staff writer arguing that the proposed cultural boycott would ultimately negatively affect black South Africans more than white South Africans who were merely irritated. Slater feared black South Africans suffer from feelings of isolation from the outside world because of the cultural boycott.

Benjamin Pogrund, The South African press
1976; vol. 5, 3: pp. 10-16

A discussion regarding the often contradictory aspects of the South African “free” press in which newspapers censor themselves. Strict laws preventing communism, sabotage and terrorism were often twisted to prevent the publications of black viewpoints.

John Laurence, Censorship by skin colour
1977; vol. 6, 2: pp. 40-43

In the UK in the 1970s, news about South Africa was contributed by the white minority while black South Africans were not interviewed by major European news outlets about events predominantly affecting their community such as the Soweto riots. This article discusses the clear racial bias, blaming it for the misinformation and misconceptions in Europe about apartheid-era South Africa.

Brief reports: Bad days in Bedlam
1978; vol. 7, 1: pp. 52-54

A report regarding the glaring health violations within the overwhelmingly black South African mental hospitals that were largely ignored due to racial factors and censorship brought about with the 1959 Prisons Act. This act made reporting “false information” on prisons or prisoners punishable with jail time or fines which led to prison and mental patient camp, conditions being largely neglected in the media.

Robert Birley, End of the road for “Bandwagon”
1978; vol. 7, 2: pp. 6-8

An article about a significant yet short-lived South African journal, Bandwagon, whose purpose was to unite individuals banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. The act featured strictly enforced limits on social life and essentially made any meetings, social or otherwise, illegal for a banned person; therefore, the impact and importance of this publication should not be understated.

William A. Hachten, Black journalists under apartheid
1979; vol. 8, 3: pp. 43-48

Hachten discusses the new found power of being a black journalist (the literacy rate of black South Africans had recently surpassed whites) and the growing hazards of the profession in the late 1970s. Journalists were arrested for reporting the events of the Soweto riots and faced constant police and legislative pressure on top of fines and censorship imposed by the white-controlled newspapers they had no choice but to work for.

Don Mattera, Open Letter to South African whites
1980; vol. 9, 1: pp. 49-50

An address from a banned poet who pointed out the cruelty of white South African society so that they may never claim ignorance to the atrocities. He questions why his words are deemed so dangerous that he is not allowed to attend social gatherings like birthdays and funerals

Nadine Gordimer, The South African censor: No change
1981; vol. 10, 1: pp 4-9

Gordimer hypothesised that the successful appeal of her novel’s banning, and that of many novels by other white writers, was due to the fact that she is white. She argued that South Africa would never be rid of censorship until it was rid of apartheid.

Donald Woods, South Africa: Black editors out
1981; vol. 10, 3: pp. 32-34

Woods wrote about the shift from editors of South African newspapers facing fines for disobeying censorship statutes to jail time in the late 1970s and explained that this shift signalled that dissent and bold writing was permitted in white politics but would not be permitted from black perspectives. He argued that the reason the government did not censor the press entirely was because they enjoyed the façade of a “free press” and there was no reason for them to need full censorship.

Keyan Tomaselli, Siege mentality: A view of film censorship
1981; vol. 10, 4: pp. 35-37

Tomaseli explained that censorship was often as financially driven as it is culturally. He wrote that censorship interferes at three stages, namely during: finance, distribution and through state censorship law. Tomaseli expands on the circumstances that led to many different films being banned or harshly edited.

Mbulelo Vizikhungo Mzamane, No place for the African: South Africa’s education system, meant to bolster apartheid, may destroy it
1981; vol. 10, 5: pp. 7-9

Mzamane claimed that the Bantu Education Act of 1956 was clearly a ploy to create compliant Africans within a society increasingly controlled by Afrikaners. Bantu schools were essentially vocational training for servitude to whites and textbooks were blatant indoctrination, he argued.

Christopher Hope, Visible Jailers: A South African writer casts a humorous eye over the bannings by his country’s censors between 1979 and 1981
1982; vol. 11, 4: pp. 8-10

A clever take on the South African censor. Hope addresses the reasons and methodology of the South African censor with tongue and cheek commentary as he reviews the Publications Appeal Board: Digest of Decisions. This collection is comprised of the totality of decisions made by the South African Publications Appeal Board.

Sipho Sepamla, The price of being a writer
1982; vol. 11, 4: pp. 15-16

Sepamla writes about the struggles of continuing to write under such strict scrutiny by censors after the banning of his latest novel, A Ride on the Whirlwind. He speaks of the disenchantment experienced by any writer that has faced censorship and specifically black South African writers who faced this treatment all too often.

Barry Gilder, Finding new ways to bypass censors: How apartheid affects music in South Africa
1983; vol. 12, 1: pp. 18-22

Music was divided along race and class lines. Music was banned under the Publications Act if it was found to be unsafe to the state, harmful to the relationship between members of any sections of society, blasphemous, or obscene Songs with even symbolic mention of freedom or revolution were banned.

Barney Pityana, Black theology and the struggle for liberation
1983; vol. 12, 5: pp. 29-31

Reverend Pityana wrote of the paradox that Christianity teaches that all are equal under god but the church in South Africa still degraded and segregated. He writes that The Bible teaches that all are created in God’s image and the plight of the Jews and other marginalised groups within the Bible give hope, guidance and reassurance to those suffering under apartheid.

Miriam Tlali, Remove the chains: South African censorship and the black writer
1984; vol. 13, 6: pp. 22-26

Tlali, a black female South African novelist, addresses the added difficulties of being black and a woman in Afrikaner-controlled society. She speaks both from personal experience and about the struggles of her peers.

Johannes Rantete, The third day of September
1985; vol. 14, 3: pp. 37-42

An honest first-hand account of the Soweto riots by a 20-year-old unemployed black South African. Rantete wrote a sympathetic eyewitness report of the September riot and the first reaction of the South African authorities to confiscate and ban it.

Alan Paton, The intimidators
1986; vol. 15, 1: pp. 6-7

The white South African novelist on the intimidation tactics and stalking committed by the security police after his controversial novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, was published. He notes that he suspects his treatment would have been even worse had he been black.

Anthony Hazlitt Heard, How I was fired
1987; vol. 16, 10: pp. 9-12

Former editor of the Cape Times, who was awarded the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers’ Golden Pen of Freedom in 1986, Heard was dismissed from his position after his interview with banned leader of the African National Congress Oliver Tambo. Heard speaks about 16 years of editing under apartheid and the circumstances surrounding his dismissal in August 1987.

Anton Harber, Even bigger scissors
1987; vol. 16, 10: pp. 13-14

‘The importance of international pressure in giving a measure of protection to the South African press cannot be overestimated’ wrote the co-editor of the Johannesburg Weekly Mail in this assessment of Botha’s policy towards the alternative press. Harber offered a compelling plea for protection of the South African alternative press by the international media.

Jo-Anne Collinge, Herbert Mabuza, Glenn Moss and David Niddrie, What the papers don’t say
1988; vol. 17, 3: pp. 27-36

An extensive review of restrictions in South Africa at that time including the Defence Act, Police Act, Prisons Act, Internal Security Act and the Publications Act. The writers offer suggestions for the safety and protection of journalists in the future.

Richard Rive, How the racial situation affects my work
1988; vol. 17, 5: pp 97-98, 103

Rive discusses the racial factors that have contributed to his writing style and the works of any black writer in South Africa. He emphasises the hypocrisy of the society he lives in which will criticise black writers as simplistic but not allow quality education and where the books of black writers sitting in libraries that they are not allowed to enter.

Albie Sachs, The gentle revenge at the end of apartheid
1990; vol. 19, 4: pp. 3-8

Albie Sachs was asked by Index on Censorship to look ahead to constitutional reform that was not foreseeable at that point and how to enshrine freedom of expression in a post-apartheid South Africa. Four months later came the unbanning of the ANC on 2 February, the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February and his reunion with Oliver Tambo in Sweden on 12 March, all of which promised real change. These are extracts from the conversation about a future South Africa. He offers suggestions for the then-looming transition from apartheid to democracy.

Oliver Tambo, We will be in Pretoria soon
1990; vol. 19, 4: pp. 7

In May 1986 Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress, was interviewed by Andrew Graham. The ANC president discussed the beginning of the end for apartheid and traces the lineage of the racism that fuelled the apartheid for nearly 50 years. Tambo optimistically plans for a new reign of government made up of representation that actually reflects the populous.

Nadine Gordimer, Censorship and its aftermath
1990; vol. 19, 7: pp. 14-16

On 11 July 1979, Nadine Gordimer’s novel Burger’s Daughter was banned by the South African directorate of publications on the grounds – among others – that the book was a threat to state security. After an international outcry the director of publications appealed against the decision of his own censorship committee to the publications’ appeal board. In this article, Nadine Gordimer reflects on these events, and on the new censorship policy they heralded. Gordimer reflects on censorship under previous administrations and what she expects from President FW de Klerk’s reign as president.

Nadine Gordimer, Act two: one year later
1995; vol. 24, 3: pp. 114-117

A reflection on how far South Africa had come and still had to go by this frequently banned author. Using the Descartes method, Gordimer considers the role reversal that has occurred in post-apartheid South Africa as her once banned colleagues ascend to political power.

Desmond Tutu, Healing a nation
1996; vol. 25, 5: pp. 38-43

An Index interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Tutu discusses the urgency of healing the past before South Africa can truly move on to a brighter future. This brighter future was to be achieved with the aid of the Truth Commission. He argued that only honesty, compassion and forgiveness would lead to national unity in South Africa, even if that means prosecuting former ANC members. He stresses that the commission’s goal is reparations and not compensation.

Pieter-Dirk Uys, The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…
1996; v0l. 25, 5: pp. 46-47

Famed satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys questioned if information about the atrocities of the apartheid could actually be uncovered by the Truth Commission. Uys asked how the country could heal when so many willing participants in the apartheid already seemed eager to forget or to forge their own accounts of history to avoid blame. His pessimistic view contrasted with that of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s.


All articles from Index on Censorship magazine, from 1972 to 2016, are available via Sage in most university libraries. More information about subscribing to the magazine in print or digitally here.

Raymond Joseph: South Africa’s Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill is deeply flawed

Jacob Zuma (Photo: Jordi Matas / Demotix)

Jacob Zuma (Photo: Jordi Matas / Demotix)

With the new year comes a new battle in South Africa as critics hit back at the proposed “draconian” Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill they say doesn’t differentiate “between espionage and an act of journalism”.

The bill comes against the backdrop of ongoing government hostility towards the media. Exposés by journalists of corruption and cronyism within the ranks of the governing African National Congress (ANC) have led to accusations by the party that the media casts it in a “negative light” and acts in opposition to it.

On the face of it, the legislation is a ham-fisted attempt to push through by stealth key aspects of the stalled and deeply flawed Protection of State Information Bill, which was first introduced in parliament in March 2010.

Dubbed the Secrecy Bill, it has reached the penultimate step in the legislative process, requiring only that President Jacob Zuma sign it into law. But, in the face of stiff opposition and threats of a Constitutional Court challenge, it has been gathering dust on the president’s desk for over two years, unsigned.

“Whole sections of the [Cybercrimes] Bill are copy-and-paste from the Secrecy Bill,” says Murray Hunter, a spokesman for the freedom of expression Right2Know (R2K) campaign. A draft version of the bill was published in August last year, with two months allowed for comments.

In a preliminary submission, R2K says some provisions of the Cybercrimes Bill go way beyond those contained in the Secrecy Bill and include “harsh, draconian penalties that would muzzle journalists, whistleblowers and data activists”.

The bill makes it an offence to “unlawfully and intentionally” hold, communicate, deliver, make available or receive data “which is in possession of the state and which is classified”. Penalties range from five to 15 years in jail and, worryingly, there is no public interest defence or whistleblower protection.

R2K has also highlighted some of its key objections to the bill in a document entitled What’s Wrong With the Cybercrimes Bill: The Seven Deadly Sins.

Hunter concedes that while policies that promote the online security of ordinary citizens are necessary, the bill is part of a raft of new “cybercrime laws popping up across the world that threaten internet freedom”.

“The policy debates in the US and UK are examples of a renewed appetite for backdoor access to privately-owned networks,” he says. “The idea is usually that governments say they want to users to have greater security against ‘outside’ threats, but still want government agencies to be able to penetrate that security.”

The bill effectively hands over the keys of the internet to South Africa’s Ministry of State Security and would dramatically increase the state’s power to snoop on users and wrests governance away from civilian bodies.

“Remember that security means protecting people’s information not only from ‘cybercriminals’, but also from state surveillance,” says Hunter.

Put another way, it’s a bit like having a really great lock on your front door, but leaving the spare key under the mat; either a system is secure against all threats or it is vulnerable to all threats.

Another big concern is that the bill, in its current form would potentially criminalise digital security analysts.

“One of the major protections for internet users’ security is a global community of security analysts and researchers who test the systems, apps and websites as a civic duty, in order to point out and fix security flaws that put the general public at risk,” says Hunter. “Basically, they are online activists who are constantly trying to find security weaknesses in other people’s systems [often belonging to governments and private companies] in order to point them out and get them fixed.”

But the bill would make these practices a criminal offence unless it was “authorised”, and in doing so would potentially make ordinary users less safe.

All of these moves contain uncomfortable historical echoes — it’s only been 22 years since South Africa became a democracy, and surveillance against citizens was among the apartheid government’s notorious specialties.

So the idea of a democratically-elected government, backed up by laws that legitimise intercepting its private citizens’ information, is especially fraught.

As temperatures soar and an “epic drought” tightens its grip on the country, all indications are that it’s going to be a long, hot summer in more ways than one, as activists and journalists prepare to fend off yet another attempt to curb South Africa’s hard-won freedom.

Ray Joseph: South Africans voice anger at country’s media environment

South African-based Right2Know Campaign is hosting a series of conferences to explore how the country’s media environment can be improved. Read the report: Media Transformation & the Right to Communicate

The media does not care about us, they never report things relevant to us and papers are only interested if there is bad news about us, the elderly, gap-toothed man says.

The digital revolution is also passing his community by, he adds. His deeply lined face and brow offer testimony to his day-to-day battle to eke out a life in the “temporary relocation area” of Blikkiesdorp, where many of Cape Town’s disenfranchised have washed up.

“Internet is expensive and doesn’t work well there, and there’s nothing in the papers that talks to us and about our struggle and lives. It’s like we don’t exist.”

The man is an “ordinary citizen” who took part in last weekend’s Cape Town leg of a countrywide series of Media Transformation and Right to Communicate summits organised by the Right2Know Campaign.

“As inequality deepens and social cohesion falters, South Africa needs a media that can offer expression to the full range of voices and facilitate the substantive and complex debates about the social and economic future of the country,” says Mark Weinberg, national coordinator of R2K.

Issues on the agenda include the need for a free and diverse press, the concentration of ownership of South Africa’s media in the hands of four dominant players and the ongoing political interference in the affairs of the SABC, as the ANC tightens its control of the state broadcaster. Participants also voiced concerns at the slow pace of South Africa’s transition to digital terrestrial TV, which will free up bandwidth for high-speed internet and new independent radio and TV stations.

During one session, a community journalist from one of Cape Town’s poorest townships angrily berated the big media houses and called on his “comrades” to march on their offices to “force” them to fund smaller, struggling independent media. Around the room, I noted many others nodding in agreement.

The anger at a perceived lack of transformation in the country’s media is fueled by the fact that the print media is still largely dominated by a handful of powerful companies, even though the landscape has shifted since the birth of a new, democratic South Africa in 1994. The anger was not only aimed at big media houses which stand accused of using predatory pricing tactics to force smaller, less well-resourced outlets out of business.

Participants also had their sights firmly set on government and its failure to support independent community print and radio. Often the main source of income for some small media is paid-for government advertorial, another participant pointed out. The result is that recipients of this revenue are reluctant to rock the boat and report critical stories about government for fear of losing this vital income.

The summits come against the backdrop of a new push by the government to introduce a Media Appeals Tribunal amidst ongoing reporting by South African media on corruption and the squandering of taxpayer money as the economy contracts, raising fears of recession.

William Bird, the head of Media Monitoring Africa says the Media Appeals Tribunal “is bad because, aside from the potential limitations to freedom of expression, it simply won’t address the core concerns over the quality of news content, diversity, transformation and what some perceive as overly negative coverage”.

As a journalist, I was often taken aback during the course of the summit at the depth of anger and isolation felt by ordinary people, especially those from poor communities who felt the media serves the rich and that they are denied a voice.

Nevertheless, I left the summit feeling hopeful. The passion of the man from Blikkiesdorp and others like him and their determination to take the fight to big media and government help remind me that while South Africa may have problems, our democracy remains strong and robust.

This column was posted on 26 November 2015 at