FATEFUL DAY for FREEDOM
THERE are a number of important days in the history of the politics of liberation in South Africa.
Here one thinks of March 28 1960 when the ANC and PAC were banned.
Another day of significance is June 16 1976 when Soweto erupted and precipitated an insurrection against the South African government.
Who can forget February 2 1990 when political organisations were unbanned. This was followed by another important day, February 11 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
What is the significance of October 19 1977?
This is the day when a number of organisations espousing the Black Consciousness (BC) philosophy and two newspapers, World and Weekend World, were banned. Pro Veritate, a publication of the Christian Institute, was also banned.
The banning of these organisations was followed by the detention of hundreds of people aligned to them. Most were detained under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act.
When this day is commemorated the focus is more on the banning of the two newspapers than on the other organisations.
On that particular day I arrived at the Industria offices of World and Weekend World at about 8.30am. I was a journalist on Weekend World.
I was greeted by cars carelessly parked at the entrance to the premises. On enquiring what was happening, I was told that the two newspapers had been banned.
While trying to make sense of this a policeman dressed in a safari suit, which was popular with members of the security police at the time, came out of the building escorting editor Percy Qoboza.
He was taken to Modderbee Prison, where he found dozens of other leaders who had been detained in a swoop that had started at midnight.
There is a need to put the banning of the newspapers in context.
Just a brief explanation of the state of the press in the beginning of the 1970s.
During this period the prominent newspapers were the following: The Star, Rand Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Sunday Express. Then on the fringes there was Golden City Press, published by maverick Jim Bailey, and World, previously known as Bantu World.
The newspapers were designated according to the communities that read them.
These newspapers operated under very harsh conditions. A minefield of legislation was in place to deal with any newspaper that contravened any of these laws.
Press freedom was unknown in South Africa. These newspapers had to be careful when they criticised the State's oppressive laws.
The Rand Daily Mail was not a favourite of the government since it published stories that exposed the government's pernicious legislation. For this it frequently got into trouble with the government.
The black newspapers really counted for nothing. Their focus was on scandal, crime, sensation and soccer. But this was to change following the emergence of the BC philosophy, which made news that could not be ignored.
When Soweto erupted in 1976, this impacted on the black newspapers. It was the black journalists who brought the bravery of the youths and the brutality of the government to the international world.
From then on black journalists never looked back. They were in the forefront, or should I say frontline, reporting about the events that were taking place in the country.
The coverage of unrest by World and Weekend World did not go down well with Jimmy Kruger, then minister of justice, prisons and police.
During this period journalists were targeted by the police who not only harassed them but also assaulted them. They were also detained. With all else failing to stop the journalists from the two newspapers, the government's only alternative was to ban them. Journalists were also detained .
The banning of the ANC and PAC had left a void in struggle politics. With leaders of these organisations in jail, detention and others having gone into exile, the state was in control and brook no opposition.
But this was to end with the emergence of the BC philosophy. The formation of the South African Student Organisation was followed by numerous organisations espousing the BC philosophy.
The BC philosophy also played a major role in the 1976 unrest and the events that followed.
The leaders of these organisations received massive exposure from the black newspapers, something which did not go down well with the authorities. So it came as no surprise when they were banned together with the newspapers in 1977.
This day - 32 year ago - played a significant role in the liberation of South Africa. The banning of the organisations at the height of the unrest resulted in the international world deciding to take the issue of South Africa seriously.
l The writer teaches politics at Unisa. He delivered this address at the Media Freedom at Wits University on Monday