From: A Crime Against Humanity - Analysing the Repression of the Apartheid State edited by Max Coleman

The classical freedoms of association, assembly and expression did not, of course, escape the apartheid mill. All were comprehensively and ruthlessly repressed, particularly during States of Emergency: Every avenue of political expression was blocked, and as new forms of resistance were devised, these too were stifled, almost at birth. Such attempts to put a stranglehold on all political activity are described below in the following HRC documents:

Banning and Restriction of Organisations (January 1989)
Banning of Gatherings (July 1990)
Freedom of the Press June 1989)

HRC, January 1989

1. Chronology of bannings


One of the first restrictions on freedom of opinion and association imposed by the Nationalist government was in 1950 with the Suppression of Communism Act. It declared the Communist Party of South Africa to be unlawful and provided for the 'naming' of communists and for the prohibition of publications expressing the views of the Communist Party. An Amendment to the Act the following year allowed for the listing of any person who had professed to be a communist, or encouraged, supported or furthered the objects of communism before the Act came into law. Thus people could be penalised for breaking laws that were not in force at the time of their actions. The Amendment also tightened the restrictions on the media.


The Unlawful Organisations Act, promulgated on 28 March 1960, gave the governor-general the power to proclaim the banning of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the African National Congress (ANC). On the 8 April 1960 these organisations were banned. This was one of the measures imposed in a spate of restrictive legislation following the Sharpeville shootings on 21 March, including the first declaration of a State of Emergency on 30 March 1960.


On 14 September 1962, the Congress of Democrats was banned in terms of Proclamation R218. The COD was a white organisation, part of the Congress group, which consisted of the ANC, Coloured People's Congress, South African Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). This was a time of heavy repression by means of house arrests and restrictions on meetings. Nelson Mandela was on trial at the time for incitement and leaving the country unlawfully, and Umkhonto weSizwe was becoming increasingly active.


With the banning of the ANC and PAC, a number of other organisations sprang up which were subsequently declared to be synonymous with the banned organisations and hence banned under the same Act. In May 1963 Umkhonto weSizwe was declared to be the same organisation as the ANC. The organisation Poqo, the military wing of the PAC, was declared to be the same as the PAC, as were the Dance Association, Football Club, Football League and the S.A.A. Football League.


The Defence and Aid Fund was an organisation set up in 1960 to provide legal aid to persons involved in political trials and also to provide assistance to their families. In March 1966 it was declared an unlawful organisation under the Suppression of Communism Act. Although the Fund was a completely separate body, it was accused of being a branch of the London-based Defence and Aid Fund, which was militantly anti-apartheid.


In October 1977 the security police swooped on activists country-wide and banned la organisations, mainly black consciousness-related, under the Internal Security Act. Two of the largest black newspapers were also banned. The World and Weekend World. These bannings led to an international outcry from a world still shocked by the death in detention of Steve Biko in September 1977. At the same time many of the leaders of these' organisations were held in preventive detention under the Internal Security Act. The banned organisations were:

Black People's Convention (BPC)
South African Students' Organisation (SASO)
South African Students' Movement (SASM)
Union of Black Journalists
Black Community Programmes Limited (BCP)
Black Parents' Association (BPA)
Border Youth Organisation
Soweto Students' Representative Council (SSRC)
African Social Education and Cultural Education (ASSECA)
Black Women's Federation
National Youth Organisation
Eastern Province Youth Organisation
Medupe Writers' Association
Natal Youth Organisation
Transvaal Youth Organisation
Western Cape Youth Organisation
Zimele Trust Fund
Siyazinceda Trust Fund


The Methodist Church of South Africa was banned in the Transkei. This ban was lifted in June 1988 under the military rule of General Bantu Holomisa. The ban had been imposed after the church had spoken out against Transkei independence. Bophuthatswana banned the Human Rights Commission of South Africa in September 1978.


33 organisations were banned in the Transkei again in response to criticism of Transkei independence. Among these were foreign organisations, e.g. the Zimbabwean-based organisation United African National Congress (UANC), some Namibian organisations and some that were even unknown such as the Marxist Front.


The South African Allied Workers' Union (SAAWU) was banned in the Ciskei in September 1983 after it had been instrumental in organising a bus boycott during times of widespread unrest in the Ciskei. This banning was challenged in court in 1987, but the four-year-old ban was upheld.


The United Democratic Front (UDF), Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and | the Azanian Students Organisation (AZASO) were banned in the Transkei.


In August 1985, soon after the declaration of the 1985 State of Emergency, COSAS was banned under the Internal Security Act. COSAS, a national student movement, was responsible for the mass mobilisation of students in the period leading up to its banning and it was the largest of the UDF affiliates, building much of the UDF's popular support. An advisory committee appointed by the state president imposed the ban following a secret investigation. A challenge to the banning was unsuccessful.


SAAWU, banned in the Ciskei in 1983, was banned in February 1986 in the Transkei.



In February 1988 a new mechanism was employed for banning 17 organisations by means of imposing restrictions under the State of Emergency regulations. These restrictions have the effect of banning the organisations until the lifting of the Emergency. If the Internal Security Act had been invoked instead, the organisations would have been entitled to demand that the minister produce a list of reasons for the banning and would have had the right to have the banning order reviewed by the Chief Justice. Thus, by using the Emergency regulations, the courts were entirely circumvented. The organisations (mainly UDF affiliates and the UDF itself), which were prohibited from 'carrying on or performing any activities or acts whatsoever' were:

Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO)
Azanian Youth Organisation (AZAYO)
Cape Youth Congress (CAYCO)
Cradock Residents' Association (CRADORA)
Detainees' Parents Support Committee (DPSC)
Detainees' Support Committee (DESCOM)
National Education Crisis Committee (NECC)
National Education Union of South Africa (NEUSA)
Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO)
Release Mandela Committee (RMC)
Soweto Civic Association (SCA)
Soweto Youth Congress (SOYCO)
South African National Students' Congress (SANSCO)
South African Youth Congress (SAYCO)
United Democratic Front (UDF)
Vaal Civic Association (VCA)
Western Cape Civic Association

At the same time as these restrictions, a different set of restrictions were imposed on the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which effectively stopped any of their activities not confined to the workplace and narrowly to workers' issues.


Following the February restrictions, a new organisation was formed in the Cape - the Committee for the Defence of Democracy. Six days after its launch, it was restricted under the same conditions as the 17 organisations.


With the second annual re-imposition of the State of Emergency on 10 June 1988, the restrictions imposed earlier in the year on the 18 organisations (i.e. the original 17 plus the CDD) were renewed.


On 10 February 1988 an attempted coup in Bophuthatswana led to the banning, at the beginning of August, of the opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP). The official reason given for the bannings was an allegation that the party leader, Peter Rocky Malebane Metsing, was planning from outside the country to release members of the party who were in jail on charges of high treason in connection with the attempted coup. This ban removed all the opposition in the Bophuthatswana parliament.

After a long build-up of public threats and a concerted campaign in the government-controlled media, the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was restricted under the same conditions as the 18 silenced organisations.


The Prisoners' Welfare Programme (PRIWELPRO) was declared an undesirable organisation in terms of the Public Security Act of the Transkei.


The Soweto Students' Congress (SOSCO) and the Azanian Co-ordinating Committee were restricted under the Emergency regulations. AZACCO had been formed in February in response to the restriction of Azanian Peoples' Organisation (AZAPO). SOSCO was formed in 1985 after the banning of COSAS.


At the beginning of November, a further 2 organisations were restricted - the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress (PEYCO) and the Transvaal Students' Congress (TRASCO). Later in the month, restrictions were placed for the first time on a right-wing organisation, the extremist Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB) and at the same time its leader, Johan Schabort, was restricted.


During November, the state intimated that a further 5 organisations were being considered for restriction orders. In fact, a further 8 organisations were restricted up to the end of the year, bringing the total to 34 restrictions in 1988. On 8 December, the Black Students Society (BSS) at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Black Students Movement at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, were restricted. On the 13 December, 2 more student organisations were restricted: the Mitchell's Plain Student Congress (MSC) and the Western Cape Students' Council (WCSC). This was followed on 29 December by restrictions on the Democratic Teachers' Union, the National Detainees' Forum, Western Cape Students' Congress and Western Cape Teachers' Union.

2. The number of organisations banned

Table 11 includes organisations which have been restricted from carrying out any activities whatsoever. It excludes the 1988 restrictions on COSATU. The banning of the military wings of the ANC and PAC in 1963 and the bannings of organisations that were considered to be the ANC and PAC under different names, are also excluded for clarity. J Some organisations have been banned in more than one area. SAAWU, for example, was j banned both in the Ciskei (1983) and the Transkei (1986). COSAS and the UDF have been banned in the Transkei as well as in the rest of the country.

Bannings of organisations

3. The types of organisations affected

The organisations have been roughly classified according to their areas of operation and the breakdown is shown in Table 12. Political and student/youth organisations have been by far the worst affected by bannings and restrictions. In the Bantustans, the church has paid heavily for criticism of the homeland governments.

Types of organisations banned

4. Legislation used for bannings and restrictions

The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 was replaced in 1976 by the Internal Security Act, which consolidated all security legislation existing at the time. Up to this time, 5 organisations had been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act and these bannings were now subject to the ISA. It was under the ISA that the 18 organisations were banned in 1977 and also COSAS in 1985. The regulations of the Public Safety Act, under which the State of Emergency exists, allows for the restrictions that are now placed on 33 organisations (including COSATU). The Bantustans each have their own security legislation, which allow for bannings.

Government Gazettes
Press clippings
South African Institute of Race Relations Surveys 1950-1980

DPSC/HRC, 1982-1990

1. Definition of a gathering

The definition of a gathering in a legal or political sense is a 'gathering, concourse or procession of any number of persons having a common purpose' (Internal Security Act, 1982). This means that 2 or more persons can constitute a gathering, including an illegal gathering. A placard demonstration by- 1 person is not a gathering but 2 such demonstrators within sight of one another and having a common purpose do constitute a gathering by this definition.

2. Gatherings legislation

The forerunner of legislation designed to ban, restrict or control gatherings was the Riotous Assembly Act of 1956, subsequently amended in 1974 and then integrated into the Internal Security Act, No. 74 of 1982, described below. Other legislation of a specific nature are the Gatherings and Demonstrations Act of 1973, which prohibits gatherings and demonstrations in the precincts of parliament; and the Demonstrations in or near Court Buildings Prohibition Act, No. 71 of 1982, which prohibits demonstrations or gatherings within a radius of 500 metres of a building in which a court room is situated.
Furthermore, during a State of Emergency, as declared under the Public Safety Act of 1953, regulations and orders may be promulgated which have unfettered powers to restrict gatherings.
Also, the 4 TBVC 'states' have legislation patterned on the ISA.

3. Powers under the Internal Security Act (ISA)
Sections 46 to 53 of the ISA deal with the measures available to prohibit or control various gatherings.

* The minister of law and order can, under Section 46, prohibit gatherings of a particular class in any area, at any time and for any period. The class of gatherings may be outdoor or indoor; the area may be a single building, a town, a district or the whole country; the time may be day or night; the period may be for one day, a weekend, a week, a month, several months or a whole year; and the prohibition may be blanket or specific.
* Magistrates can, under Section 46, prohibit or impose conditions on specific or all gatherings within their magisterial district, for a period up to 48 hours.
* The police may bar access, under Section 47, to places where a gathering has been prohibited and may, under Sections 48 and 49, disperse prohibited or certain other gatherings with the use of force, including firearms, depending upon certain circumstances.

4. Powers under the Public Safety Act (PSA)

The powers to ban and restrict gatherings under a State of Emergency are virtually unlimited, to the extent even of imposing curfews, which rule out any right of assembly beyond the hours of daylight. Such powers are assigned to police commissioners or their designates without reference to any higher authority.

5. Application of powers

Since 1976 there has been a blanket ban, renewed annually by the minister under the ISA, on all outdoor political gatherings for which prior permission has not been obtained. Such permission is rarely granted, so that for an uninterrupted period of 15 years outdoor political meetings have for all intents and purposes been prohibited. The latest renewal was on 1 April 1990 for a further year.

Since 1986 there has also been a blanket ban, renewed annually, on all indoor gatherings at which work stoppages, stayaways or educational boycotts are advocated.

Apart from blanket bannings, many thousands of specific gatherings have been banned since 1950 under security legislation and emergency regulations by ministerial, magisterial or police edict. The police with considerable loss of life and injury have broken up thousands of 'illegal' gatherings, while tens of thousands have appeared in court charged with attending unlawful gatherings.

Recent statistics reveal the pattern of police violence in dispersing gatherings:

In August and September 1989 during the Defiance Campaign, over 50 marches and demonstrations were broken up, more than half with the application of force, including the use of teargas, quirts, birdshot, rubber bullets, water cannon, batons, etc.
Official figures of arrests for attending gatherings banned under the ISA and PSA during the year of 1989 total 2474 persons.
HRC records for the first half of 1990 show that over 170 persons lost their lives and more than 1500 were injured during the course of such police action.
Official figures show that during the one month between 4 June 1990 and 2 July 1990, the security forces acted more than 650 times to disperse gatherings in terms of Section 48 of the ISA.
A recent innovation in interference with meetings takes the form of 'sitting-in' by the police. As many as 200 police occupy a block of seats in the hall and video-recordings of the proceedings are made in a very prominent manner.

6. Kinds of gatherings affected

An extraordinary range of gatherings have been banned over the years in attempts by the authorities to head off any threat of protest action, expression of solidarity, or, in the words of a typical banning order, 'any gathering at which any form of government or any principle or policy or action of the government of any state or the application or administration of any law is propagated, defended, attacked, criticised or discussed, or which is held in protest against or in support of anything'.

Gatherings that have been perceived to pose such threats have included:

Protest marches and demonstrations, e.g. against Venda Independence celebrations, Tricameral elections, detentions, forced removals.
Outdoor rallies, e.g. celebrating Freedom Charter Day.
Indoor public meetings and conferences, e.g. World Conference on Religion and Peace, Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture, NUSAS annual congress, launch of new organisations, protest meetings against State of Emergency, treason trials and rent increases.
Private meetings, seminars, e.g. church workshop on rural poverty, innumerable organisation meetings.
Commemoration services, e.g. death of Steve Biko, Sharpeville Massacre, February 1986 massacre in Alexandra, unrest deaths, and prayer service for Benjamin Moloise on death row.
Funerals of unrest victims.
Celebrations, e.g. Nelson Mandela's birthday, Steve Tshwete's house warming party after his release from Robben Island.
Cultural and social events, e.g. concerts, music festivals, carols by candlelight, detainee tea parties, art exhibitions, and fun run).
Meeting of banned persons. Technically a husband and wife, if both banned, were prohibited from being in the same room together, without obtaining special permission.

7. Funerals of unrest victims

Funerals of political unrest victims became a highly charged form of gathering due to the interference of the security forces and inevitably resulted in yet more deaths, ensuring that funerals would take place virtually every weekend from 1985 onwards. At first the authorities attempted to restrict or limit the numbers of mourners at such funerals by banning these funerals from taking place at weekends. Soon, numerous other conditions, first under the ISA and later under Emergency regulations, were added to severely restrict the conduct of funerals and which inevitably aroused the extreme anger of communities at the gross manner in which they were allowed to bury their dead. Special standardised Emergency regulations for funerals have been developed and such blanket restrictions were in force on all funerals in over 70 black townships as at December 1989. Additional conditions include the following:

 to be held weekdays only and between specified hours;
procession by motor transport only, for both hearse and mourners (nobody permitted on foot);
route stipulated from undertaker to church to cemetery;
number of mourners limited (usually 50);
no freedom songs or political speeches;
addresses only by ordained local priest and family member (no loudspeakers);
no banners or placards and no pamphlets or notices to be distributed
coffin not to be draped in the flags of banned organisations.

Needless to say, such conditions were frequently ignored, providing the security forces with the legal justification for the use of force and thereby stoking the ever-increasing spiral of more deaths and more funerals.

HRC, June 1989

1. 1948-1960: The first inroads
2. 1960-1985: The screws tighten
3. The press under the State of Emergency
4. Indirect press controls
Police-press agreement
NPU-Defence Force agreement
5. Harassment of journalists

Historically, the South African government has been pulled in two directions on the issue of press freedom: it has clearly wanted much tighter control of the press but has stopped short of pre-publication censorship for fear of alienating its Western allies. Instead, it has steadily closed off the areas which the press may freely cover - more than 100 laws now limit what may be reported about key areas of national life, such as the conduct of the army and police. Newspapers have also been subjected to a range of indirect and informal controls, and self-censorship is rife. The result is a newspaper industry increasingly unable to reflect the political realities of South Africa.

1. 1948-1960: The first inroads

Suppression of Communism Act

Before the National Party came to power in 1948, the major press curbs were those under the common law, for example concerning defamation and contempt of court, which are common to most countries. The first statutory attack on press freedom under the new government came with the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, which empowered the state to close any publication deemed to promote the spread of communism, published by an unlawful organisation or which expresses views propagated by such an organisation. This was later used to ban six newspapers - The Guardian, New Age, Fighting Talk, The African Communist, World and Weekend World.

Prisons Act

Another law that has become a thorn in the flesh of South African journalists is the prisons Act of 1959. This makes it an offence to publish a photograph or sketch of a prisoner or the burial of an executed prisoner without official permission with the result that newspapers are not allowed to publish pictures of jailed political leaders such as Nelson Mandela. This law also outlaws the publication of false information about the experience of a prisoner or the administration of a prison without taking 'reasonable' steps to verify its accuracy, and places the onus of showing that reasonable steps have been taken ^on the accused. The law does not specify what 'reasonable' means, and as a result of a 1967 prosecution of the Rand Daily Mail where the judge ruled that the taking of sworn | statements was not adequate, almost nothing controversial was published about the E prisons for 15 years. There is now an unofficial understanding that newspapers will not be - prosecuted under the Prisons Act if they submit reports to the Prisons Service for comment and publish its response in full.

Public Safety Act

The other major statutory inroad into press freedom in the 1950s was the Public Safety Act of 1953, which provided for the declaration of a State of Emergency. The full impact of this would only be felt later.

2. 1960-1985: The screws tighten

On 30 March 1960, days after the Sharpeville Massacre, South Africa's first State of Emergency was declared. Among other things, Emergency regulations made it an offence to publish a 'subversive statement' - defined as a statement likely to subvert the state's authority, inciting others to resist measures taken under the Emergency, bringing about feelings of hostility towards others or causing alarm - and empowered the minister of the interior to close any publication if he considered that it systematically published subversive material. The Emergency was lifted on 31 August the same year but the empowering legislation remained in force. The political upsurge of the early 1960s and the launch of a sabotage campaign by the African National Congress led to ever-tightening restrictions on the press.

Suppression of Communism Act

The Suppression of Communism Act had provided for the listing of people deemed to be communists, and for such people to be served with 'banning orders'. In 1962, it became an offence to quote a banned or listed person. The Internal Security Act has replaced the Suppression of Communism Act but the listings mechanism is still in force and serves to silence the leaders of key resistance organisations by preventing the media from quoting them. The Act also makes it an offence to further the aims of an unlawful organisation.

The Defence Act

The Defence Act was amended in 1967 to outlaw the publication of information about the movement or disposition of South Africa's armed forces at any time without government" clearance and not only in time of war, as previously. The ban was extended to nursing and | transport services, and to statements or rumours relating to the armed forces which might 'alarm or depress the public' or 'prejudice or embarrass' the government in foreign relations. A later amendment made it an offence to promote conscientious objection to military service. The implications of Defence Act restrictions were brought home in 1975 when newspapers across the world reported the SADF invasion of Angola but South Africans were kept in the dark.

The Publications Act

In 1963 the Publication and Entertainment Act established a Publications Control Board with the power to ban any publication other than (mainstream commercial) newspapers of the Newspaper Press Union. The board, which reaches decisions in private without having to hear evidence, and which gives no reasons for its decisions, can declare publications 'undesirable' if it considers them harmful to relations between sections of the population, or prejudicial to the safety of the state, the general welfare or peace and good order.
A 1969 amendment empowered the board to ban all future editions of an offending publication - an effective closure provision - and in 1974 a new Act, the Publications Act, streamlined the censorship procedure. The board (now the Publications Committee) has banned thousands of publications, many of a political nature, and has recently turned its attention to the 'alternative' press. In recent years, a more liberal appeals board has overturned some of its decisions.

The Armaments Development and Production Act

The Armaments Development and Production Act of 1968, a response to the United Nations arms boycott against South Africa, made it an offence to publish information about the manufacture and procurement of weapons by South Africa without official permission.

The Newspaper and Imprint Registration Act

The Newspaper and Imprint Registration Act of 1971 requires all newspapers to register and for registration to lapse if a newspaper fails to come out once a month. A black newspaper. The Post, was closed in 1981 after a strike by journalists stopped it from publishing for 3 months. In terms of the Internal Security Act, a newspaper must deposit up to R40 000 with the government if the minister of justice believes it may be banned at any stage. This is clearly designed to discourage the registration of small opposition newspapers. In 1988 an Eastern Cape news agency was forced to abandon plans to start a newspaper when the minister demanded a R40 000 deposit and the device was recently used against two other left-wing publications, The New African and Vrye Weekblad.

The 1970s was the high-water mark of government attempts to subvert the opposition English-language press from within. In 1973, the Department of Information secretly tried to take over the Natal Mercury and in 1975, one of the country's major press groups, SA Associated Newspapers. The Erasmus Commission, set up to investigate irregularities in the department's use of public funds, found in 1977 that R30-million from a secret fund had been spent on establishing and financing the Citizen newspaper - which, although now privately owned, is still in existence.

After the 1976 student uprising in Soweto and other townships, a major government onslaught was launched against the black press. In October 1977, the World and the Weekend World were banned under the Internal Security Act on the grounds that it had 'overstepped the limits of press freedom', and their editors placed in preventive detention. At the same time, the Union of Black Journalists was banned under the Internal Security Act. In the same year there was an unprecedented clampdown on the student press. Fifty-one student publications were banned and 5 declared undesirable under the Publications Act.

The Petroleum Products Act and the Nuclear Energy Act
A response to the oil boycott against South Africa, the Petroleum Products Act of 1977, prohibited the publication of information about the procurement and storage of petroleum. The 1982 Nuclear Energy Act introduced similar restrictions with regard to the mining, procurement and treatment of nuclear fuels.

The Police Act

In 1979, the Police Act was amended to outlaw the publication of false information about the actions of the police unless the reporter had reasonable grounds for believing the report to be true, putting the police on much the same footing as the prisons service. The onus of checking the information was placed on the individual reporter, rather than on the newspaper. There have been frequent prosecutions under this provision and it has proved to be one of the most onerous restrictions in the day-to-day work of South African journalists. A 1980 amendment of the Police Act gave the police blanket protection from newspaper coverage of anti-terrorist operations, except for reports based on police information.

The National Key Points Act

Following the escalation of ANC sabotage in the early 1980s, the National Key Points Act was passed, empowering the minister of defence to declare any installation a 'key point', thus prohibiting coverage of the security measures in force there. The Act is silent on how, when or where the minister is to make his declaration and how the press is expected to know whether the power has been exercised.

The Protection of Information Act

In 1982, the Official Secrets Act was replaced by the Protection of Information Act, which places extremely wide and loosely formulated restrictions on the transmission of official information to 'hostile organisations'. In at least 1 case, the police to refuse to answer press queries on security detainees has used the Act.

3. The Press under the State of Emergency

The uprising in the townships, which began in late 1984, has triggered the toughest press controls in South African history. In July 1985 a partial State of Emergency was declared and Emergency regulations gave the authorities powers to control or ban the publication of news 'in connection with these regulations, or the State of Emergency, or any conduct of a force or member of a force regarding the maintenance of public safety or the termination of the State of Emergency'. A year later, the Emergency became national. On pain ofaR20 000 fine or 10-year jail sentence, newspapers have been barred from:

Filming, photographing or reporting on unrest or security force action in 'unrest', which includes unlawful gatherings and processions, without official permission. Journalists were later prohibited from being on the scene of 'unrest'.
Publishing a 'subversive statement' - defined as a statement discrediting military service; promoting 'people's courts' and other alternative structures of power; urging illegal strikes and boycott action or assessing the effectiveness of such action or calling for the release of people detained under the emergency. The regulations provide for the summary seizure of publications containing 'subversive' material - a provision that has been used on several occasions, most recently against the mouthpiece of COSATU, South Africa's premier labour federation.
Reporting on the circumstances or treatment of a detainee or giving information in connection with a detainee's release. In August 1987, the government tightened the emergency media regulations specifically to deal with the 'alternative' press-newspapers outside the commercial mainstream with a strong anti apartheid stance.

New regulations empowered the minister of home affairs to warn and then suspend any publication for up to 3 months if it systematically published material 'fanning revolution' or unrest, fomenting hostility towards the security forces, local authorities or any population group, or promoting the image of a banned organisation. The decision to suspend lies entirely within the minister's discretion and cannot be challenged in court, except on narrow, technical grounds. To date, 5 newspapers - the New Nation, South, the Weekly Mail, Grassroots and New Era - have been suspended for varying periods while others have been warned.
In addition to the above, older legislative curbs continue to be rigidly enforced under the Emergency. For example, in 1987 alone 5 journalists were tried under the Police Act.

4. Indirect press controls

Where possible, the government prefers to encourage self-censorship and the voluntary co-operation of the press. It has tried to achieve this by means of agreements between the security forces and the Newspaper Press Union - the owners of the commercial newspapers - and by constant threats to intensify statutory controls.

Police-Press agreement

In 1981, the NPU reached an agreement with the police providing for police accreditation of selected journalists who would have privileged access to 'confidential and sensitive' information from authorised police sources and to areas closed to the general public. In return, accredited journalists had to undertake not to publish information obtained independently of the police without first consulting the senior officer in the area concerned. Where the information related to 'national security or the combatting of terrorism', the police may request that it should not be published.

NPU-Defence Force agreement

An agreement reached between the SA Defence Force and the NPU in 1967, and updated in 1980, provides for access to military news from the SADF's media liaison section and the minister of defence, on condition that:

Leaked or unauthorised news relating to the armed forces is suppressed if the authorities request it.
The minister may refuse to comment on an issue and order that his 'no
comment' reply should not be reported. The press must abide by this.
Reports on the South African military originating abroad may only be published if the minister has been given the opportunity to comment.


In response to government pressure, the NPU drew up its own voluntary code of conduct in 1962. The code, which provided for the reprimand of offending journalists, required the press to take account 'of the complex racial problems of South Africa' and the 'general good and safety of the country and its peoples'. In 1974, a state press commission recommended the establishment of a statutory press council 'for the self-control and discipline' of the press. This followed a statement by the Prime Minister, B.J. Vorster, which he had repeatedly warned the press about the need for self-censorship and announcing that legislation providing for the suspension of newspapers was under consideration. The NPU amended its code to require journalists to exercise responsibility in 'matters stirring up feelings of hostility' between the races and 'which can affect the safety and defence of the country'. A board of reference was set up with powers to fine editors and journalists. In 1977, the government introduced a Newspaper Bill providing for a statutory press code and Press Council with a state-appointed chairman with powers to fine journalists and suspend newspapers. It was withdrawn after negotiations with the NPU, which tightened up its code and set up its own Press Council. In 1982, the state-appointed Steyn Commission of Enquiry into the mass media called for the registration of journalists and a statutory Press Council with powers to fine or bar journalists from the profession. The threat of statutory control was once again averted when the NPU promised more rigorous self-regulation through Media Council, which would sit as a form of court and impose fines of up to R10 000. Journalists' organisations refused to take part in the council saying it had been forced on them. In 1987, the government introduced emergency regulations requiring all freelance journalists and 'alternative' press agencies to register with the government and face de-registration if they angered the authorities. The regulations were withdrawn when it was discovered that they were so loosely framed that they covered even the state's own Bureau for Information.

5. Harassment of journalists

Journalists operating in South Africa have to contend with routine harassment, some of it official, some informal. Such tactics have intensified under the State of Emergency and are primarily directed at the 'alternative' press and foreign journalists. Security legislation has been used to detain many journalists over the years but the practice has intensified under the emergency. In March 1988, 5 journalists were reported to be in detention, including the editor of a leading alternative newspaper, Zwelakhe Sisulu. He was released after 2 years in detention and served with a ferocious restriction order, which prevents him from working as a journalist. Journalists are frequently subpoenaed under section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act to reveal their sources and in some instances have been jailed for refusing to do so. Passports and visas are often refused local journalists wishing to travel abroad. In 1988, for example, a prominent journalist and vice-president of the International Federation of Journalists, Thami Mazwai, was refused a visa to attend an IFJ meeting in Lesotho. Before they were excluded altogether from 'unrest' areas, there were persistent reports of informal security force harassment of journalists covering 'unrest'. Press people were reportedly shot at, tear-gassed, sjambokked (whipped), arrested for obstructing police, as well as having film and equipment confiscated. Perhaps the most sinister instance was that of a cameraman for a British television network, George De'Ath, who was hacked to death by vigilantes during 'unrest' in the Western Cape. At his inquest, lit was alleged that police and vigilantes had worked closely together, that they had shot at journalists and that there had been a delay before De'Ath had received medical treatment. Police also allegedly obliterated a section of De'Ath's videotape after confiscating his equipment in the wake of the murder. Foreign journalists are frequently deported or have visas refused. Between the start of the emergency and the end of 1987, 12 foreign journalists were expelled, according to official figures. Between July 1986 and June 1987, K.3& foreign journalists were refused visas or visa renewals. Among the organisations and papers affected were the New York Times, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC and Britain's Independent Television News.

The more remote the area in which journalists are based, the worse the harassment. Saamstaan, an anti-apartheid newspaper based in the tiny rural town of Oudtshoorn, has suffered arson (on 3 occasions), the breakage of equipment and the theft of an entire issue from a warehouse. One of its staffers has been shot by a 'special constable', another detained, 3 have been restricted and one has been prosecuted under the Police Act. Because local firms will not print the newspaper, it has to be printed in Cape Town - 500 kilometres away.

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