REMEMBERING OCTOBER 19 1977 WHEN THE APARTHEID REGIME CRACKED DOWN ON THE MEDIA AND JOURNALISTS IN AN ATTEMPT TO CONTINUE WITH THEIR REPRESSIVE AND OPPRESSIVE POLICIES
(UBJ members outside the hotel in Wentworth where they held their second annual meeting early in 1977. Some of the colleagues who I can recoginise are Charles Ngakula, Juby Mayet, Philip Mthimkulu, Thami Mazwai, Aggrey Klaaste, Mike Norton. I am also in the photo wearing a Union of Black Journalists t-shirt)
October 19 2018By Subry GovenderAt a time when most South Africans are expressing their concerns about the role of some journalists in our new democratic country, it is appropriate to recall the day 41 years ago when the former apartheid regime carried out the biggest and most extensive crackdown against the freedom of the press.In a latest development, the freedom of the media once again came under the spotlight when the Sunday Times newspaper on October 14 apologised for publishing stories that had affected the lives of some officials who worked for government institutions such as the Hawks and SARS. The editor, Bongani Siqoko, said “we committed mistakes and allowed ourselves to be manipulated by those with ulterior motivies” when the newspaper carried stories on the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit, the South African Revenue Service(SARS), and the Zimbabwean renditions.
The Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit, which was referred to as a “death squad” by the Sunday Times, led to the suspension of the leader of the squad, Major General Johan Booysen, and several other unit members.
Several senior officials at SARS, including the former acting Commissioner, Ivan Pillay, were forced to leave SARS after the Sunday Times carried stories about them operatring a “rogue unit” when this was rejected by all the officials concerned.
The development at the Sunday Times have taken place at a time when many journalists have to put up with the ulterior actions of politicians and others who want to “capture” the media for their own ends. The ruling ANC also attempted a few years ago to introduce measures to “capture” the media but this was abandoned following strong protests from journalists, media organisations and the public at large. WORLD AND WEEKEND WORLD
Today, on October 19 2018, we recall one of the darkest days in South Africa’s journalism history 41 years ago when the country’s main black newspapers, World and Weekend World, were banned and ordered to cease publication along with Pro Veritate, a publication of the Christian Institute; and when editors and journalists were either banned, detained or interrogated and had their homes and offices raided and searched.
The action against the media, ordered by the infamous Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, was carried out in conjunction with the banning of 18 anti-apartheid interest groups, civic, student, religious and media organisations; and banning and detention of their leaders and officials. Kruger and the State President at that time, Dr Nico Diederichs, signed the banning proclamations.
With the stroke of a pen, the state had removed two newspapers that had played a crucial role in keeping the people informed of the social, political and economical situation in the country at that time.
PERCY QOBOZA AND AGGREY KLAASTE
Mr Kruger just over a month earlier had described black consciousness leader, Steve Biko's death in detention as "It leaves me cold".
The notorious security police or "special branch" of the time carried out systematic raids against journalists, newspaper offices and other publications in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and other cities and towns around the country.
In Johannesburg, security policemen arrested Mr Percy Qoboza, Editor of the World and Weekend World, at his offices at about mid-day, only a few minutes before he was due to hold a Press conference about the banning of his newspapers. He was taken to the then John Vorster Square police headquarters. Mr Qoboza was subequently issued with a five-year banning order. His deputy and news editor, Aggrey Klaaste, was also detained and locked up.
(Zwelike Sisulu, Juby Mayet and other colleagues taking part in a protest march in Johannesburg against the banning of the UBJ and other organisations on October 19 1977)
The Editor of Pro Veritate, Cedric Maysom, was also detained and issued with a banning and restriction order.
The security police in Johannesburg also carried out raids and searches at the homes and offices of other journalists and organisations such as the Union of Black Journalists(UBJ), which was one of the 18 organisations banned. They also arrested and detained a number of journalists, including Joe Thloloe, who was the chairman of the UBJ at that time.
In East London, the security police raided the offices of the Daily Dispatch and served its editor, Donald Woods, with a five-year banning order; and searched homes of some of his reporters, including Miss Thenjiwe Mntintso who later skipped the country to go into exile because of harrassment and intimidation.
In Durban, the security police raided and searched the homes of Dennis Pather, who later became editor of the Daily News; and this correspondent.
I can clearly recall what happened when two white security policemen called at my former home at 30 Mimosa Road, Lotusville in Verulam in the unearthly hours of October 19.
They did not inform me that their political bosses had banned the UBJ and 18 other organisations and also banned the World and Weekend World.
They ransacked the house and confiscated papers and documents.
When representations were subsequently made to Mr Kruger for the release of detained journalists, he unapologetically responded by saying that the detentions were not meant to intimidate the Press and that his Government had good reasons to detain the journalists.
The clampdown against the media on October 19 1977 had a ironic twist two weeks later when it was reported that the Government was planning to print postage stamps to celebrate 150 years of Press Freedom in South Africa.
RAY SWARTA Durban lawyer who was national chairman of the then Progressive Federal Party, Ray Swart, launched a blistering attack against the National Party Government for talking of Press Freedom at a time when it was conducting one of the ruthless campaigns to suppress the media.
In an interview on October 28 1977, Mr Swart, a strong critic of the apartheid regime, told me that he was impressed that the Government should want to commemorate Press Freedom but he would be more impressed if it gave greater indication of what it considered Press freedom to be.
He had said: "It seems strange that they intend doing this after having just banning three newspapers, incarcerated one editor and banned another. I find it difficult to reconcile the actions of the Government. I suggest the stamps they intend issuing to commemorate Press freedom should have the faces of Mr Qoboza and Mr Woods."
Of course the Government of the day did not take up Mr Swart's recommendation and despite his, the country and world-wide condemnations of the action against the newspapers, editors and journalists, the state continued with its clampdown and suppression of the media much more forcefully. But despite some of the most stringent regulations and harassment and intimidation of media practitioners over the next 13 years, most journalists never gave up and used October 19 to continue with the struggles for Press Freedom.
They realised their dream of Press Freedom when the ANC and other organisations were unbanned and when Mr Nelson Mandela and other leaders were released in February 1990.
Now, 41 years into our new South Africa and after enjoying true Press Freedom, our country is continually facing attempts by some opportunistic politicians and business people who want to “capture” the media and journalists for their own ends.
The memory of October 19 1977 should ensure that we don't allow ourselves to follow the "Yaa Baas" route. ends - email@example.com