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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


STEMMET, Jan-Ad. "Shadow-play of the soothsayers": Political censorship in South Africa, c.1980-1989. An historical perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2009, vol.49, n.1, pp.85-97. ISSN 2224-7912.

It is not farfetched to argue that South Africa has a culture of censorship rather than a culture of freedom of speech. Too easily politicians were/are seduced by the ease of censorship. Too easily the public has granted the nationalisation of this right. As apartheid, and the opposition against it grew, so too did political censorship. The evolution of censorship in South Africa was unabated. Apartheid was dependent on control. Furthermore, for apartheid to succeed it demanded not only a subordinate populace but a conformed society. Especially conformity-in-thought. It was essential that the different societies knew their place by not merely accepting it, but indeed also believing it. Free thinking could too easily lead to contagious rebelliousness. Censorship, in many ways, does not have a logical point of saturation. The more censorship, particularly of a political kind, flourishes, the more ground it needs to keep on covering. At least this was the case in South Africa. The vacuum left by the censors was eagerly filled by government propaganda. Eventually, having grown increasingly disillusioned with an antagonistic world and paranoid about its motivations, the apartheid state rethought its international position. Although apartheid, ever since its conception, solicited criticism and protest from a world which was developing in the exact opposite direction, during the late 1970s the South African minority leaders reconsidered the never-ending swell of pressures. For them the panoramic pressures and criticisms were no mere indication of a world which refused to accept the logical humanity of apartheid. It was the culmination of a multidimensional Communist conspiracy operating on a global level. It was the so-called Total Onslaught. In reaction, the minority government executed an all-encompassing counterstrategy of its own, the Total Strategy. At the heart of both the Total Onslaught and Total Strategy was a so-called struggle for the hearts and minds of the people. Information, naturally, formed a cardinal part of the crux. Freedom of speech, as such, was placed within the cadre of state security. Accordingly, information which was, or had the potential to be degrading or critical of the authorities or the political status quo was evaluated as possibly being part of the Total Onslaught's campaign of psychological warfare. Breaking down the people's trust in their leaders and their will to fight, according to the government, was a classic strategy of the enemy to ease their planned takeover. To protect South Africans by being duped by this phantasmagoric onslaught they had to surrender freedom of speech for their own benefit. By the 1980s censorship was an extensive and sophisticated aspect of the state machinery. Freedom of speech, as defined by the regime, was bestowed upon the responsible burgers. The South Africa of the 1980s exemplifies in many ways a climax of contradictions. Through, within context, epic reforms the government of P.W. Botha made the apartheid state more "open". This openness trickled through to freedom of speech. Simultaneously, Pretoria welded a nearly impenetrable bulwark of political censorship. Information did not necessarily imply an informed. Truth depended on government officials' stamps of authenticity. Reality became relative. This article examines the question why the Botha government, as part of its multidimensional Total Strategy, deemed censorship necessary. Furthermore, it looks at how the evolutionary system of interwoven censorship appeared and how it was applied. After 1994 a considerable number of South Africans, especially many whites, declared that they had not known. In conclusion the effect of it on the South African society will be examined.

Keywords : Apartheid; political censorship; political violence; state of emergency; Total Onslaught; Total Strategy; P.W. Botha government; Bureau of Information; South African Broadcasting Corporation; propaganda.

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