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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

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

Tydskr. geesteswet. vol.49 n.1 Pretoria  2009


"Skimmespel van die waarsêers": Politieke sensuur in Suid-Afrika, c. 1980-1989. 'n Historiese perspektief


"Shadow-play of the soothsayers": Political censorship in South Africa, c.1980-1989. An historical perspective



Jan-Ad Stemmet

Departement Geskiedenis,Universiteit van die Vrystaat




Dit is nie vergesog om te argumenteer dat Suid-Afrika eerder 'n kultuur van sensuur as vryheid van spraak het nie. Té maklik was/is politici in die land deur die plesier van sensuur verlei. Té rustig het die publiek die nasionalisering van hierdie vryheid toegestaan. Namate apartheid, en die opposisie daarteen, gegroei het, het politieke sensuur toegeneem. Die vakuum gelaat deur die sensors is geesdriftig deur regeringspropaganda gevul. Teen die 1980's was sensuur 'n uitgebreide en gesofistikeerde aspek van die staatsmasjinerie. Vryheid van spraak is aan die verantwoordelike volksgenote toevertrou. Die Suid-Afrika van die 1980's versinnebeeld in vele opsigte 'n klimaks van teenstrydighede. Deur, binne konteks, epiese hervorming maak die regering van P.W. Botha die apartheid-staat "oper". Hierdie openlikheid syfer deur tot vryheid van spraak. Terselfdertyd het Pretoria 'n haas ondeurdringbare bolwerk van politieke sensuur gesweis. Inligting het nie noodwendig 'n ingeligte veronderstel nie. Waarheid het van regeringsamptenary se egtheidstempel afgehang. Werklikheid het relatief geword. Hierdie artikel ondersoek waarom die Botha-regering, as deel van sy multidimensionele Totale Strategie, sensuur nodig geag het. Verder word gekyk na hoe die evolusionêre vlegwerk van sensuur daarna uitgesien het en hoe dit toegepas is. Ná 1994 verklaar veral witmense dat hulle nie geweet het nie. Ten slotte word die effek van die bespreekte sensuur op die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing in oënskou geneem.

Trefwoorde: Apartheid, politieke sensuur, politieke geweld, noodtoestand, Totale Aanslag, Totale Strategie, P.W. Botha regering, Buro vir Inligting, Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie, propaganda


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.

Key concepts: 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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Dr. Jan-Ad Stemmet is 'n senior lektor in die Departement Geskiedenis aan die Universiteit van die Vrystaat. Hy verwerf sy doktorsgraad in 2002 aan die UV. Sy proefskrif handel oor die Suid-Afrikaanse politieke krisis van die 1980's. Sy fokusgebiede sluit in aspekte rondom media-en kultuurgeskiedenis, asook die fenomeen van politieke terreur. Die beginsel van sensuur en vryheid van spraak, hetsy sosiaal, artisties of polities, lê hom na aan die hart en in dié verband publiseer hy verskeie artikels. Hy is ook medeskrywer van "'n Lewe van sy eie - Die biografie van Volksblad".

Dr Jan-Ad Stemmet is a senior lecturer in the Department of History at the University of the Free State. He received his doctoral degree at the UFS in 2002. His thesis focused on the South African political crisis of the 1980s. His focus areas include aspects concerning media and cultural history, as well as the phenomenon of political terror. The principle of censorship and freedom of speech, irrespective ofwhether social, artisitc or political, is close to his heart. He has published several articles in this regard. He is also co-author of "'n Lewe van sy eie - Die biografie van Volksblad" (A life of its own - The biography of Volksblad).

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