Parallels to fateful day inevitable now that government is tightening screws

Themba Molefe

Themba Molefe

Just a month and seven days before Black Wednesday, Steve Biko was murdered in detention.

The dust had not yet settled, when Jimmy Kruger rubbed salt into the wounds by saying the death of the revered Black Consciousness Movement leader "leaves me cold".

Black anger was reaching fever pitch. It was palpable.

Then in one fell swoop on Wednesday, October 19 1977, Kruger, then the apartheid regime's minister of justice, banned 17 Black Consciousness organisations including the late Beyers Naude's Christian Institute. The vocal Union of Black Journalists was also on the hit-list.

Also banned were The World and Weekend World newspapers, Sowetan and Sunday World's predecessors; and Pro Veritate, a Christian Institute publication.

The country was shocked. The world was outraged.

At the corner of Blumberg Street and Commando Road, Industria West, the presses stopped abruptly after white security branch policemen arrived.

They had gone to serve the editor of The World and Weekend World with the order banning the sister papers. That was about 11am.

Most journalists were out on various assignments, oblivious of the drama back at the office.

But not only was the Special Branch's mission to shut down the two black publications; they had also come to detain the editor, Percy Qoboza, and his deputy, Aggrey Klaaste.

It was under Qoboza that The World and Weekend World transformed from a sex, crime and soccer catalogue to a serious newspaper which took issue with the oppression of blacks.

Qoboza and Klaaste were to spend five months in solitary confinement after being led straight to their cells - in their suits and ties - from the newspapers' building.

And thus had the persecution, especially of black journalists, begun in earnest.

Significantly, fearless journalists such as Mathatha Tsedu, Joe Tlholoe, the current Press Ombudsman; and veteran Don Materra were detained and after their long stay in jail, each was slapped with a five-year banning order.

They were not allowed to work as journalists, let alone be in the presence of more than one person.

Tsedu was banished to Seshego in Limpopo.

Many black journalists were detained without trial for periods varying from six to 18 months or longer under the draconian section 9 of the Internal Security Act and its harsher counterpart section 6 of the Terrorism Act.

Consequently, hundreds of activists countrywide were also awoken in pre-dawn raids and detained without trial. Many more fled into exile to join the ANC, PAC and Black Consciousness Movement.

It is 30 years on today, when a day that came to be known as Black Wednesday will once again be observed. At venues throughout the country press freedom in the new dispensation will be put under the microscope.

Notably, Black Wednesday, also called Press Freedom Day, comes when media groups are looking askance at government's attempts to tighten policy on film, censorship and publication.

lSee page 19