Return to bad old days
Commemoration a timely reminder of the days of bannings and detentions
THIS week, we commemorated the anniversary of the banning of The World and Weekend World newspapers, and of a church publication, Pro Veritate. They were banned on October 19 1977, which came to be known as Black Wednesday,along with19 other black organisations.
We commemorated this date because we want to make sure that we do not forget the fight for press freedom.
We do not want to forget the bad old days of apartheid. Only a month before the bannings, we had mourned the death, under horrific circumstances, of Steve Biko, and had noted the people's anger. We had warned then-justice minister Jimmy Kruger that the people had tired of the manner in which the government was treating them.
We had warned that keeping the lid on the political and social cauldron was not sustainable. He chose to boast to his constituency, a people long fed a diet of propaganda and artificial economic wellbeing, that the government was fully in control.
The mistake that The World had made, in the eyes of Kruger and his government, was that we ran an educational supplement called People's College, the earliest example of educational supplements that have become commonplace in SA. We had run a history revision section dealing with the Russian Revolution. That was enough to make them see red. And when he mentioned this to his party loyalists, they shouted in unison "verban hulle!" - "ban them!"
On our news and feature pages, we had also exposed the barbaric manner in which Biko had been treated.
The World and Weekend World were banned because they exposed the government's excesses. The newspapers had devised ways of reporting information on the banned ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress in exile. We fought injustices wherever we could.
The World and Weekend World were closed down because they spoke out - like many other publications and organisations.
The government's intention was clear: they were going to close down any black organisation that fought against apartheid.
Hundreds of South Africans were detained, like the editor of The World, Percy Qoboza, under the Internal Security Amendment Act - the notorious Section 10 which saw hundreds of people being taken away, never to be seen again in some cases. The police hid behind the secrecy provisions of this law: they were not obliged to provide any information, including even confirmation of the fact that people had been detained.
Journalists were locked up, and we were assured by the government that none of them were being held because of their journalistic activities.
The student uprising of June 16 of the year before had brought with it a new political awareness and fervour. The World and Weekend World reported on the activities, and kept the nation informed of the police brutality that was taking place. The police questioned our stories, accused us of fabrication, and threatened us with jail. Emergency regulations were used to stop us from reporting, but we found ways to get the news.
The apartheid government used the cloak provided by secrecy laws to send young whites into war in neighbouring countries - even against the ANC and the PAC in what were called "hot pursuit" activities. Secrecy laws prevented us from telling this story - and others.
The commemoration comes as we battle our own democratically elected government to avoid the slide back to those dark days.
South Africans should not allow themselves to be so brainwashed by propaganda that the Protection of Information Act and the Media Tribunal are in their interest. There are thousands of white South Africans who claim they did not know what was being done in their name. That may even be true, for they allowed much of the government's actions to take place under the cloak of secrecy, and behind the bogeymen of "swart gevaar" and communism.
The commemoration of Black Wednesday reminded us, once again, about what can happen if good men and women remain silent.