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: Activism reawakens in South Africa’s students

Holding a dustbin in front of his chest the young bare-chested student stands defiantly in the middle of a dusty road, facing down a squad of heavily-armed riot police.

Suddenly his body begins jerking crazily like a puppet on a string as bullets fired by a police marksman armed with a high-powered FN rifle smash through his useless shield and thud into his body. Almost four decades later this deadly tableau that played out on an Alexandra Township street a few days after the 16 June 1976 student uprising against the use of Afrikaans began in Soweto is still etched into my memory.

As a young reporter, I had been assigned that day to cover the unrest that had spread to Alex, as the flames of insurrection raced across apartheid South Africa like wildfire.

Over the weeks that followed, I regularly witnessed how police reacted with deadly brute force against student protesters armed only with rocks and anti-apartheid songs.

I also remember the mass meetings and marches in the early 70s against harsh apartheid laws by students at Johannesburg’s Wits University, which were inevitably broken up by police with vicious dogs and armed with whips, batons and tear gas.

So it was with a sense of déjà vu that I sat and watched on television almost two decades into South Africa’s young democracy as riot police used rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas to break up country-wide protests by students against above-inflation university fees hikes. They were also demanding that universities end the outsourcing of campus cleaning and maintenance jobs and for the people who do them to become full-time employees.

The fees protests came against a backdrop of a decrease in government subsidies leading to a growing dependency on student fees to make up shortfalls. But they also point to a much deeper problem at South African universities.

What South Africa has been witnessing is a reawakening of activism among students after a hiatus of almost two decades. For a week, campuses across the country embarked on the biggest nationwide student protests since the birth of the new democratic society in 1994.

But student and youth-led activism in South Africa is not new. It was pressure by the ANC Youth League leaders, including Nelson Mandela, which forced the organisation’s leadership to adopt a programme of action in 1949, including mass resistance tactics like strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience. It was also pressure on the leadership by youth that resulted in the 1952 launch of the Defiance Campaign against unjust apartheid laws.

But one big difference in these latest protests was the harnessing of social media as a rallying and activism tool. Powered by the #FeesMustFall hashtag the issue went viral with over half a million tweets and counting as Twitter became a powerful tool in the hands of the protestors.

With the ubiquity of smartphones among the students, Twitter became the go-to source to keep up with the rapidly unfolding story as the protests spread to 18 university campuses in eight of the country’s nine provinces, forcing the suspension of lectures and the cancelation of exams.

In the early days of the protests, some callers to radio shows at first dismissed the students’ actions as hooliganism.

But sentiments quickly turned in favour of the students as social media posts captured the unfolding drama in real time as the gloves came off and police moved against students who forced their way into the Parliamentary precinct in Cape Town.

Having evicted students, many holding their hands in the air as a sign of non-violence, the protest continued on the streets around Parliament–but once again police reacted with a heavy-handed response.

The growing anger and public support for the students were also fueled by the ANC-dominated Parliament carrying on with business as usual, even as the sound of stun grenades and rounds being fired rang through the chamber. Anger mounted as reports emerged that police were considering charging some of those arrested with high treason.

But Twitter also captured some poignant lump-in-the-throat moments as social media showed students of all races and political persuasions joining hands, and white students forming a human shield around black students in the belief that police were less likely to act against them.

The country-wide demonstrations culminated in a mass protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, the seat of South Africa’s government.

As demonstrators on the lawns outside chanted and sang, President Jacob Zuma met with university chancellors and students leaders, before his government capitulated to student demands. As the protests continued outside, Zuma appeared live on national TV and announced that there would be a 0% increase in university fees in 2016.

The news immediately spawned the jubilant new hashtag #FeesHaveFallen with some protesters saying that the suspension of 2016 fees was just the beginning of their struggle and vowed to continue the fight for free university education.

One thing is clear: after a week of protests by South Africa’s future generation of leaders, the country’s democracy was far stronger than when it began – and the high toll paid by the young man with the dustbin lid and others had not been in vain.

This column was posted on 27 October 2015 at

China marks Mandela’s death with no mention of “freedom” or “democracy”

The City of Cape Town launched the Nelson Mandela Legacy Exhibition to honour his contribution to South Africa's democracy. The exhibiton is a collection of historic photographs and visuals capturing significant moments in Mandela's life. (Photo: Sumaya Hisham / Demotix)

The City of Cape Town launched the Nelson Mandela Legacy Exhibition to honour his contribution to South Africa’s democracy. The exhibiton is a collection of historic photographs and visuals capturing significant moments in Mandela’s life. (Photo: Sumaya Hisham / Demotix)

Chinese coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death has reflected the government’s new-found sympathy for Maoism, its rejection of democracy and its long-standing sensitivities over Tibet and Taiwan.

When Nelson Mandela died, the official statement from President Xi Jinping praised Mandela as “an accomplished politician of global standing,” while state-owned China Central Television described him as “an old friend of China”.

This was to be a precursor for the following day’s censorship — which banned coverage referencing “freedom”,“democracy”, Mandela’s Nobel Peace Prize and foreign policy hot topics Tibet and Taiwan.

While President Xi Jinping did not attend Mandela’s funeral himself, his Vice President Li Yunchao did, and was booed by crowds as he made his memorial speech.

Xi commented on Mandela’s bright smile, called him a “towering figure” and “an old friend of China”. There was no mention of “freedom” or “democracy”.

In an op-ed for CNN, deputy director of Asia division for Human Rights Watch Phelim Kene argued that the deliberate omissions in official statements, as well as the selective censorship policy, was a ploy to distract attention away from China’s own Nobel Peace Prize-winning freedom and democracy activist, Liu Xiaobo.

In 2009, democracy activist Liu was charged with inciting subversion and sentenced to 11 years in prison. His name has since been banned from Chinese micro-blogging sites, although the state-owned Chinese newspaper Global Times broke the ban recently to issue a seething counter-West editorial, accusing American editors of falsely painting Liu as “China’s Mandela”.

According to The Global Times, outlets like The Washington Post, New York Times and CNN had deliberately focused on the imprisonment of Liu in an attempt to foster unrest.

An op-ed argued that “Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for leading African people to anti-apartheid victory through struggle, tolerance and efforts to bridge differences,” while Liu had “confronted authorities” and “was dealt with under strict legal procedures. This system ensures that a society of 1.3 billion people runs smoothly.” The piece also argued that “mainstream Chinese society” had rejected Liu’s campaign for democracy.

Yet the circumstances of two men’s imprisonment remain remarkably similar. Mandela was charged and sentenced after he helped produce South Africa’s pro-democracy “Freedom Charter”. Liu, similarly, is one of the activists who drafted “Charter ‘08”, a manifesto for Chinese democracy. Families of both men were persecuted by the state and censorship departments in both countries attempted to remove all mention of the dissenters from the media (including previously written works).

Promotion of Mao’s legacy seems to be Xi Jinping’s communications strategy of choice — and it appears Mandela’s death has been co-opted into this “Maoisation” of Chinese politics. State press releases asserted that Mandela had read Mao’s “Little Red Book” while imprisoned on Robben Island, as well as describing himself as a “student of Mao”.

Mandela was certainly  a fan of Mao, though principally for his military strategies rather than his later domestic policies. In a TIME Magazine interview, he praised the tactics used during the “Long March”, as well as his “determination and non-traditional thinking,” which Mandela briefly noted in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

Overall, the Chinese press complied with censorship restrictions to censor the words “freedom” and “democracy” from accounts of Mandela’s life and death, as well as steering clear of Tibet and Taiwan, both contentious foreign policy issues that Mandela had previously weighed in on. Under his presidency, South Africa cut off ties with Taiwan over its previous support for Apartheid, and in favour of Communist mainland China.

Mandela had also met with the Dalai Lama on several occasions, who issued a video tribute to Mandela. The Tibetan leader has been refused a visa to visit South Africa twice in the last four years, regarded by many as an attempt not to risk diplomatic relations with China.

A dictat from China’s Foreign Ministry also attempted to censor “posts and comments on Weibo that take advantage of Mandela’s funeral to attack our political system and state leaders”, ordering offending content to be deleted immediately.

Property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang commented on Weibo: “Because he was a fighter — for all his life— for democracy, equality and peace and harmony, he is now an icon of all these.” Another user, from Shanxi, wrote “A great leader, rest in peace.”

Some Weibo users employed sarcasm to express their views. In response to philanthropist Fan Wei asking “Will China have its own Mandela?” one user replied, “Heroes only appear in turbulent times. In our ‘harmonious’ homeland, there is no use for Mandelas.” Another simply said, “They are in prison.”

“Old friend?” another user mocked. “He pursued justice, fairness and freedom. Does he have anything to do with you? Don’t blow your own trumpet.”

Notably, the so-called “New Left” Maoists reacted hotly to the government’s comparisons, with Weibo messages strongly in favour of Mao Zedong over Mandela.

“India’s Gandhi and South Africa’s Mandela were great. But Chairman Mao surpassed them all,” said one.

Another commented, “Mandela had bowed to racism. His consideration of the Tibetan independence movement as a human rights movement was a big, big mistake. He is a banana with dark skin.”

The death of Mandela has also resurrected an unlikely pop song from the 1990s. The Hong Kong-based band Beyond surged back into the charts with their song “Glorious Days”, reaching number one after almost a decade of hiatus.

“Glorious Days” had already achieved chart success in the post-Tiananmen era, when many were afraid to discuss political issues. Released in the midst of a music scene that mainly comprised of love songs, the Cantonese pop band achieved record sales with a song about racial equality, which was dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

This article was published on 19 Dec, 2013 at