South African censorship was the worst in the world. Check out the following:“What Did You Tell The Librarians?” ~ Or the horrors of South African literary censorship
Trevor T. Moses
Film Archivist / Client Services Practitioner
National Film, Video and Sound Archives
Tel: (002712) 343 97 67
Fax: (002712) 344 51 43
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Before I commence my presentation, I would like to ask how many of the people present were at the IFLA conference in Durban in 2007? It was South Africa’s sincere pleasure and privilege to host all of you there and I trust that you all enjoyed yourselves very much: I bring you warm greetings from South Africa.
The title of my paper comes from a rather rude telephone call that the filmmaker Michael Moore received from his publisher regarding his book “Stupid White Men”. The publisher demanded to know what was going on because “we’re getting hate mail from librarians”. What had happened was Mr Moore had told his guests at a lecture in New York that, due to the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (my birthday, unfortunately) his book would not be released and the stored 50 000 copies awaiting distribution and sale would most likely be pulped. What Mr Moore was unaware of was that one of the guests there was a librarian who, angered at the censorship practiced by the publishers, emailed her colleagues, telling them what had happened and to contact the publishers to demand that Mr Moore’s book be released. The upshot of this was that thousands of librarians across the country contacted his publishers, the book was released with no media fanfare and became a best-seller almost immediately. Mr Moore’s wry comment in that book was that “librarians are one terrorist group that you don’t want to mess with.” I’d like to thank Mr Moore for allowing me to include part of his book in this paper.
I’d like to dedicate this paper to a friend of mine who is sadly no longer with me ~ her name was Jeanette Burger and she was basically a few good things to me: a good person, a good teacher and a good librarian: she was my mentor in all things related to libraries and librarians, I miss her a lot and think of her often.
In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the 2007 IFLA conference in Durban, the Minister of Arts and Culture, Dr Z Pallo Jordan, touched on the subject of literary censorship in South Africa and mentioned that the “august” body known as the Censor Board made a serious error of judgement when they banned a supposedly offensive book with a supposedly offensive title. The author: Anna Sewell. The title: Black Beauty. You can laugh, but it was and is sadly true: the Censor Board had banned it on the title alone.
The South African Censor board (later to become known and feared as the Publications Control Board) was established in 1933 and continued its’ reign of terror until the Government of National Unity was formed when democracy and sanity came to South Africa in 1994. In the years preceding the advent of democracy, thousands of films were either banned or cut, millions of books, magazines and newspapers were banned, people were thrown into prison for possession of so-called undesirable material and one of South Africa’s foremost poets, Professor T T Cloete, became a censor in 1963.
Hang on, I hear you saying: A writer being a censor? Could this be true? Yes, unfortunately. Having a writer as a censor is like having a child molestor look after your children: it is wrong and just does not work. The Publications Control Board and its’ big brother, the Publications Appeal Board had frightening powers and ruled with an iron fist ~ what is worse is that they had no public faces and could have shop-owners, newsagents, etc. arrested on the spot for selling “indecent” or “offensive” material. No South African was allowed to possess material that the Censors found objectionable, and free thoughts were not encouraged, unless they were free thoughts sponsored by the National Party.
Having said that, the rise of the South African Censor Boards was not due in any way to the ugly policies of Apartheid ~ if one says that it was so, how can it be that liberal and politically progressive countries outside of South Africa also banned and censored publications and films? No, the censorship policy of South Africa can be ascribed to the blinkered mentality of the Censors and those in government: anything that they did not recognize, know about or understand is of the Devil himself, i.e. horrible things like television, (yes, TV was banned) having a drink in a bar on a Sunday, and Lord forbid that one should actually want to go shopping on that day. For many years, South Africans were told what they may or may not read, listen to, see and virtually what they may do. The true horror of this state of affairs is that the Censor Boards did their work with little or no opposition from the public, who boneheadedly let the then government make decisions for them. Thankfully, this rotten status quo of the government deciding for its’ people what is fit for them no longer applies.
Even worse, film screenings were not permitted on Sundays (according to the edicts of the ‘Sunday Observance Act’ of 1898) and this policy continued until 1993, video stores being exempt from this policy. Films were heavily censored and restricted: a sad example is the Lou Adler film “Up In Smoke” starring Richard “Cheech” Marin and a famous son of Canada, Tommy Chong. The Censor Board banned this film, stating that “it will encourage the use of marijuana by the impressionable youth of South Africa”. So as a result, I didn’t see this film until the censorship laws were relaxed. When I finally did see it on DVD, I was shocked. Shocked because the Censor Board were in a sense right as it did encourage me to do something. But not, to their dismay, I suppose, to smoke marijuana: It encouraged me to laugh. I could go on for hours concerning the films that were banned by the Censor Boards and for which reasons, but I would need a few days to do this correctly.
Just as an example of how ridiculous the Censor Boards’ rulings were as regards films; they banned and/or restricted films that contained, in their opinion, so-called “undesirable” material or contained views or thoughts that “would be offensive to a certain section of the South African public” ~ an example of this can be found in the Academy Award winning motion picture In The Heat Of The Night (1967), directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. This film was banned solely for the scene in which the detective Virgil Tibbs (Poitier) is slapped across the face by Eric Endicott (Larry Gates) a racist white land-owner: Virgil’s reaction is to slap the racist right back. Result: the film remained banned for ten years.
Even popular music was not exempt from these idiots and their ability to turn gold into turds: after John Lennon’s infamous comment about the Beatles being bigger than Jesus was aired, their music was banned from airplay. I am sure that David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd would be amused to know that their album The Wall was denounced as offensive and banned. When asked about the banning later, the Minister of the Interior, Mr Marais Steyn, was quoted as saying that he had never heard of the group Pink Floyd at all. Artists such as Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel also had their works banned in South Africa, as did Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, whose song “Mrs Robinson” and the offensive line Jesus loves you more than you will know….. caused both the song and the Mike Nichols film The Graduate that it was used in to be banned.
The Censor Board under the chairmanship of the 80 year old Professor Gerrit Dekker underwent a major change in 1963 and was re-named the Publications Control Board, but no matter: it was still a faceless, bureaucratic, shadowy, organization who found everything from women’s naked shoulders in films, to so-called adult magazines to television “offensive to the population of South Africa” and banned them. As regards television, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Dr Albert Hertzog, condemned it as “the Devil’s box” and banned it forthwith. A major irony: once TV came to South Africa in 1975, the first telecommunications tower in Johannesburg was named after him.
The most feared of all the South African censors was an individual named Judge Johannes H. Snyman, a person who rejoiced in the nickname of “Lammie” [lamb] and was the most influential of all the Censor Board heads before or since. Under Snyman’s benevolent rule of terror, thousands of books, films, newspapers, magazines and journals were banned, mostly with no reasons given other than the general excuse that “it is offensive…” I am not ever one to make fun of health issues, but after less than a month in the post as Chief Censor / Big Brother, Snyman suffered a serious coronary and was put on leave for quite a few months. Comedians of the time risked censorship themselves by commenting that Snyman’s coronary was a direct result of him seeing what the South African public was not permitted to see.
Many famous authors’ works were banned ~ I am sure that Stephen King would be delighted to hear that Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, It, The Dead Zone and ‘Salem’s Lot were denounced as offensive and banned for many years. Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” was also banned as “undesirable” although the Steven Spielberg film was not. Jackie Collins’ novels were all banned, as were the novels by Jacqueline Susann, James Herbert, Peter Straub, Clive Barker and Robert Ruark.
The renowned South African authors Andre P. Brink, Wilbur Smith, Pieter-Dirk Uys, Breyten Breytenbach, Richard Rive, Ezekiel Maphalele, Stuart Cloete and Etienne Leroux also went through the PCB gauntlet: there were cries of horror when Leroux’s “Seven Days With The Silbersteins” was awarded a major SA literary prize and calls were made in Parliament for it to be banned, even though none of those people had actually read the book. Even if you were a Nobel Peace Prize Literature winner and an Oscar winner, your work was not immune from banning: Nadine Gordimer and Ronald Harwood respectively found this out to their disgust. Even humour was considered offensive back in the day: the first two Second World War autobiographies of Spike Milligan, Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall and Rommel? Gunner Who? were banned. After hearing all this, you must be wondering what the PCB wanted South Africans to read exactly? Other authors who had their works banned included the following authors:
William Styron (Sophie’s Choice)
William L Burroughs
Eric Von Lustbader
Norman Mailer (The Naked & The Dead banned for its’ title alone)
Mario Puzo (The Godfather)
J G Ballard
John D. MacDonald
James Hadley Chase
James A Michener
Georges Simenon……………..etc, ad nauseaum.
Hundreds, if not thousands of books, magazines, journals, pamphlets, posters, films, videos, sound recordings and even magic lantern shows were all banned and being in possession of these and being caught so doing left the person with two options, one worse than the other: a stiff jail sentence, a heavy fine or both. One of my weekly tasks at the NFVSA was to put new lists of banned articles into an ominous sounding file called Jacobsens Book Of Objectionable Literature. I have our copy here with me and I had to pay extra baggage handling fees for it as it is so heavy. This file has over 600 pages of so-called “offensive” and “objectionable” material listed in it, much of it being of a political and sexual nature, but ultimately, all of it was declared to be against the wishes of the government of the day and “offensive” to a certain section of the public. Thus the censor boards were playing out George Orwell’s nightmarish world of Big Brother and all that accompanied it.
The Censor Board, in its’ infinite wisdom also sought to have the Holy Koran banned, an idiotic move which angered many South African Muslims, to the extent that the PCB were asked that if the Holy Koran was considered to be offensive, then surely the Bible should be banned too. The PCB nearly swallowed its’ collective teeth in anger at this affront to their dignity and the very idea of it, until the Muslim community reminded them of the erotic passages in the “Song of Solomon” Bible chapter.
It is very interesting to note that while all so-called “Communist” books and pamphlets such as the works of Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Nikita Khruschev and Joseph Stalin were banned, works such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf were not. Idiocy also ran rampant when two books published in Zimbabwe in the 1980’s were banned for “having possible communistic influences” ~ these books were entitled Thoughts Of Chairman Jesus and Quotations From Comrade Jesus ~ books containing quotes from the Bible. This ban everything communistic in sight but leave the rest alone jag could be put down to the fact that the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1966 to 1977 (when South African censorship was at its’ most claustrophobic) was one Balthazar Johannes Vorster, a man who was interned during World War 11 for his pro-Nazi stance.
If, after a certain period, books and other items were found to be non-offensive anymore, the PCB and PAB still issued orders regarding the sale and displaying of such items. These books were not allowed to be in public view and if they were, they had to be in a sealed wrapper, possibly for fear that the thoughts contained therein could infiltrate the minds of the easily convinced by some weird sort of osmosis. Previously undesirable publications were held in libraries and if the publication was of a sexual nature, these books were kept locked away until someone plucked up the courage to ask for them. Even by appearing like benevolent uncles and saying that “we trust you, you’re adults now, you can read / see / hear this” the Censor Boards still put restrictions on what could be seen, heard, read and done by the public that paid their salaries.
Thus an entire generation grew up secure in the knowledge that because the then government and their lackeys said so, anything related to sex and politics was taboo and that their government knew what was best for them. No shops open on Sundays, no cinemas open on Sundays, no doing what we tell you that you may not, no watching of films that we consider offensive, no listening to music that has hidden Satanic, Communistic meanings, as well as lyrics that may corrupt you, no watching of television as those satanic images may cause you to ditch our racist propaganda and lead you to develop a more worldly point of view: do as we say and the volk will be free. But oh yes, when you turn 16, by all means go off to war in Angola and die for a cause, our cause. The then government’s mantra (in the words of Al Pacino in Roger Donaldson’s The Recruit) was “Our cause is just: our enemies: everywhere, they’re all around us. Some scary stuff out there.” Their cause was not just: their rise and power over the people may not have had anything to do with apartheid but their ironfisted rule did nothing less than propagate the disgusting policies of apartheid and all that went with it.
I am greatly thankful that we in South Africa now have freedom of thought, word and deed thanks to the advent of democracy and sanity in our troubled, turbulent but beautiful country of South Africa. Censorship formed a large part of what South Africa was under apartheid, not only censorship of thought, word and deed, but also censorship of people, all of which add up to nothing less than crimes against humanity, our humanity, Africa’s humanity and the world’s humanity.
I would like to conclude my paper with an excerpt from a novel which was denounced as “evil” and “offensive” by the Censors in the early 1980’s ~ Stephen King’s “It” containing the following paragraph which allegedly offended the censors greatly.
“So drive away quick, drive away while the last of the light slips away, drive away…………from memory but not from desire. That stays, the bright cameo of all we were and all we believed as children, all that shone in our eyes, even when we were lost and the wind blew in the night. Drive away and try to keep smiling. Get a little rock and roll on the radio and go toward all the life there is with all the courage you can find and all the belief you can muster. Be true, be brave, stand. All the rest is darkness.”
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.A South African Censorship History Timeline 1913 ~ 2007
The Local Censorship Ordinance Act of 1913 is promulgated.
The National Censorship Act of 1931 is passed into law which demands that “all cinematographic material be cleared before exhibition”.
The SA Censorship Board is established.
Zoltan Korda’s locally filmed “Cry The Beloved Country” is temporarily banned due to Ministerial complaints about its’ content.
Anna Sewell’s classic novel “Black Beauty” is banned by the Censors due to its’ title alone.
The SA Publications Control Board (PCB) is established with the 80 year old Professor Gerrit Dekker as its’ head, who later retires, and Adv. Jannie Kruger is appointed in his place. Professor T T Cloete, one of SA’s foremost writers and poets is appointed a censor.
Ralph Nelson’s “Lillies of The Field” with Sidney Poitier is banned and remains so, even after Poitier is awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his role in this charming film. It is later unbanned in 1973.
Cy Endfield’s “Zulu” with Sir Stanley Baker and Sir Michael Caine is banned for screening to “natives” for fear that it might “incite them to violence”.
Elmo de Witt’s “Debbie” runs the censorship gauntlet as the PCB impose first one, then another high age restriction on this simple tale of a naïve farm girl falling pregnant in Pretoria. Kruger’s comment on the film is that “No Afrikaans girl ever gets pregnant out of wedlock”. The film is available on tape today with no age restriction at all.
The PCB orders all foreign embassies in SA to submit all films in their posession to it for scrutiny, and possible censorship and/or banning.
Guy Green’s “A Patch Of Blue” is banned for daring to show relationships across the colour line ~ in this case, the unconditional love of a blind white girl for a person of colour who loves her in return. This film continued the vogue of censoring or banning almost all of the films that Sidney Poitier starred in.
Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker” is banned ~ the reason given by the PCB is that “it is offensive to see a “Bantu” female baring her breasts for a white man”.
Three of Sidney Poitier’s films ~ “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, “In The Heat Of The Night” and “To Sir, With Love” are banned by the PCB this year. Other films banned include “The Graduate”, “Blow Up”, “Finian’s Rainbow, “Witchfinder General” and “Bonnie and Clyde” ~ all internationally acclaimed and award-winning films which South Africans were not permitted to see.
Jans Rautenbach’s “Die Kandidaat” (SA’s first political thriller) is released only after the Security Police seize a copy of it to check if cuts ordered by the PCB were effected.
The 1963 Publications and Entertaiments Act is amended.
Ken Russell’s “Women In Love” is heavily cut and Martin Ritt’s “The Great White Hope” is banned for its’ depiction of love across the colour bar.
Mario Schiess’ “Onwettige Huwelik” is almost banned this year, with the head of the PCB stating that the film is undesirable due to the fact that “there has never been, nor will there ever be an unlawful marriage in SA”.
The PCB’s annual report states that since its’ inception, 1600 films have been severely cut and 300 films banned.
The harsh brand of SA censorship is debated both in Parliament and in the media this year. Ken Russell’s “The Devils” and Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” are both banned as are “The Immortal Story”, “Billy Jack”, “Soldier Blue” and “The Dunwich Horror”, among others.
Peter Henkel’s “Three Bullets For A Long Gun” earns itself the dubious homour of becoming the first SA film to be banned.
Uncensored in flight films are screened on all of SA’s overseas flights, leading to fits of apoplexy at the PCB who have no jurisdiction over this. In the same year, Dr Connie Mulder states that “the powers of the PCB will be increased if need be……………South Africa must not become the dumping ground for money hungry pornographers”.
The interracial sex scenes between Roger Moore and Gloria Hendry in Guy Hamilton’s James Bond thriller “Live & Let Die” are cut from the SA release print. Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Last Tango In Paris” is banned in SA, but released uncut at a casino in Swaziland ~ Dr Connie Mulder threatens “serious action” against those who would dare cross the border to view this film.
Films banned this year include “Shaft In Africa”, “The Wicker Man”and “The Big Boss”, the latter film starring Bruce Lee.
PCB chief Jannie Kruger denies that censorship exists in any form in SA ~ he is quoted as saying that “SA has no censorship system of any kind, we merely have a system of publications control”.
Ralph Nelson’s anti~SA film “The Wilby Conspiracy” starring Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine (filmed in Kenya with Nairobi substituting for Johannesburg) is banned, as are “The Exorcist”, “Enter The Dragon”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Blazing Saddles”.
SA filmmaker Sven Persson’s “Land Apart”is banned and is almost totally re-shot, finally finding release under the title “The South Africans”.
The 1974 Publications and Entertainments Act is promulgated in Parliament and remains in force until 1994.
The Publications Appeal Board (PAB) is established this year ~ in theory, its’ establishment creates a higher court of appeal by filmmakers and distributors to contact if their films were banned or cut: in reality, it is just another censor board with more frightening powers than the PCB.
Among the films banned this year, one finds “The Whispering Death”, “The Devil’s Rain”, “Race With The Devil” and “The Trial Of Billy Jack”. Manie Van Rensburg’s local political comedy “Die Square” is banned
The PCB orders that no less than 30 cuts be made to the award-winning film “All The President’s Men” but has to retreat from this decision when the film’s producer and star Robert Redford angrily attacks them, threatening to lead a boycott against SA exhibition of USA films. The film is released uncut.
Judge J H “Lammie” Snyman is appointed head of the PAB this year ~ heralding a new period in censorship history as films, books, magazines and music are banned left, right and centre, sometimes without reason.
USA filmmaker Richard Donner takes the Censor Board to task this year over the huge number of cuts ordered to his film “The Omen”.
Moustapha Akhad’s “Mohammed Messenger Of God” and Richard Brooks’ “Looking For Mr Goodbar” are banned.
A legal clause stating that “it is an offence to prejudice, influence or anticipate the decisions of the Publications Directorate” is added to the Publications and Entertainments Act this year. Ripples of horror run through the government this year as polls indicate that the majority of South Africans wish cinemas to be open on Sundays.
Jack Gold’s “The Medusa Touch” is the film which causes most problems for the censors this year with its’ depiction of a homicidal maniac (Richard Burton) who kills by thought and who is seen to be immortal even after he is supposedly been killed. The PCB states that the film would only be released if the final scene “where evil is seen to triumph” is cut, but the film is released uncut, albeit with a very high age restriction.
James Fargo’s locally filmed “Game For Vultures” is banned this year as “its’ screening might endanger the security of the State”.
Judge J H Snyman retires this year and Professor Kobus van Rooyen is appointed in his place. Snyman’s last act as Chief Censor is to ban the Pink Floyd album “The Wall”. “Dressed To Kill” and “Friday The 13th” are also banned.
The films “The Howling” and the locally filmed “The Grass Is Singing” are banned.
The Department of Home Affairs announces this year that “South Africa has the strictest censorship system in the world”.
Roger Spottiswoode’s “Under Fire”is banned ~ the excuse given is that “the film might sow the seeds of revolution in South Africa”.
The Directorate of Publications orders that all video distribution slipsheets be submitted to them for possible censorship before usage.
The 1974 Publications and Entertainments Act is amended.
ACTAG (the Anti-Censorship Action Group) is formed and there is a serious request from the head of the Islamic Council in SA to the PCB to request that the Bible be banned, due to the “lurid and pornographic” passages in the Song of Solomon.
Gray Hofmeyr’s locally filmed “Jock of The Bushveld” is banned in Zimbabwe.
A new age restriction for films rears its’ head this year as Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” is released uncut, but with a no persons 2 to 21 age restriction on it.
Sir Richard Attenborough’s controversial “Cry Freedom” is passed by the PCB but is later seized by the Security Police.
SA filmmakers Darrell Roodt’s “The Stick” and Andrew Worsdale’s “Shot Down” are banned this year and the Publications and Entertaiments Act is amended. Chris Menges’ anti-South African film “A World Apart” (based on lives of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, starring Barbara Hershey and Jeroen Krabbe) is also banned.
Cedric Sundstrom’s “The Shadowed Mind” and Euzhan Palcy’s “A Dry, White Season” are banned this year while the anti-South African action comedy “Lethal Weapon 2” (in which South African diplomats are portrayed as gun runners, Krugerrand smugglers and killers) is released uncut here and becomes the box-office hit of the year.
Professor Kobus Van Rooyen resigns as the head of the PAB after the fracas over the seizing of “Cry Freedom” ~ unconfirmed reports at the time suggested that his house was also fire-bombed and his life threatened.
Martin Scorsese’s controversial “The Last Temptation of Christ” is banned.
Advocate Louis Pienaar replaces Professor Kobus van Rooyen as the PAB head this year but resigns after a period of six months.
Professor Dan Morkel is appointed the new head of the PAB.
Paul Verhoeven’s “Basic Instinct” is released uncut in South Africa this year ~ this act immediately causes a relaxation of the censorship laws in this country.
The Weekly Mail Film Festival highlights SA censorship this year at its’ “Limits Of Liberty” festival and the PCB head, Dr Abraham Coetzee is a guest speaker who was booed off the stage.
Despite a relaxation of the oppressive censorship laws, several films are banned for television screenings, including the local productions “The Stick”, “Place of Weeping” and “Zulu”.
The Freedom of Expression Institute is established ~ an amalgamation of ACTAG and the Campaign For Open Media.
Ex PAB chief Dr Kobus van Rooyen urges that the 20 year old Publications and Entertainments Act either be revised or scrapped altogether.
As the era of democracy dawns in SA, the newly appointed Minister Of Home Affairs, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi states in Parliament that “never again in this country will anyone decide what any rational and intelligent beings may or may not watch, read or hear”.
The 1994 Publications and Entertainments Bill is gazetted this year and the activities of the PCB and the PAB are slowly wound down.
The Arts and Culture Task Group’s report is submitted to the GNU this year, advising that the old censorship system be scrapped entirely but that a new, representative board be appointed in its’ place.
In a landmark ruling, the SA Supreme Court states that the possession of so-called “pornographic” books, magazines, films and videos is no longer illegal.
Much of the once banned and undesirable films are released to home video, such as the long banned “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “A Clockwork Orange”
The SA Censor Board arises in a new guise this year in a more representative and more public face as the “Film and Publications Board” (FPB)
The 1994 Film and Publications Act is amended this year (with particular relevance to making the production, possession and selling of child pornography illegal) and the FPB makes its’ own advert to be used in cinemas and VHS/DVD rentals, using footage and audio from the eerie film “The Others”, starring Nicole Kidman. The tagline on the adverts is: “The effect lasts long after the film is over. Age restrictions are there for a reason. We inform, you choose.”
The Department of Home Affairs threatens to impose censorship on all television programmes screened in SA.
Rumours circulate in the media that a return to the days of pre-transmission and publication censorship of all media by Government is imminent.
In addition to the current censor warnings (S, L, V, P, N) on film posters and video slipsheets, the FPB announces a new symbol, that of B, for films which contain blasphemy. The Film and Publications Act is also amended, this time with input from the public.