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Black Wednesday meant 'there were no black organisations overnight'

Bongani Nkosi

"I went to work that day. When I got to the office, people asked if I had heard," Lybon Mabasa, a Black Consciousness Movement activist recalled the news about the banning of The World paper.

Mabasa went on to learn that a number of his comrades at the Black People's Convention (BPC) had been arrested, as were various journalists.

Then apartheid minister of justice, police and prisons Jimmy Kruger also banned the further publishing of The World and its weekend edition. "It was a day of great trauma," Mabasa said of the day now commemorated as "Black Wednesday".

"Despite the fact that we knew that it was a long time coming, we had not thought it would be in such totality - that just overnight there would be no black organisations."

In addition to being a member of the BPC, Mabasa worked for the South African Committee for Higher Education. A teacher, Mabasa had been forced out of Meadowlands High School because of his political activism.

"... those were key newspapers that had reported on the outbreak of violence in Soweto in 1976," Mabasa said.

"Remember, the Hector Pietersen photo by Sam Nzima about the evils of apartheid was published by The World.

"The World and the Sunday paper were intricately linked to the struggles that were taking place in the country.

"People like [editor] Percy Qoboza did not mince their words in criticising the government and the Draconian laws they were pursuing and imposing on black people."

The Weekend World ran what was called the "People's College" when education had collapsed in Soweto.

"I was working on that project. We had a syllabus focused on the continuation of education," Mabasa recalled.

Biko Mutsaurwa, spokes-man for media freedom at the Right2Know campaign, said:"There's no divorcing the strength of the Black Consciousness Movement in 1977 from the Black Wednesday clampdown."

Journalists today face their own struggles , Mutsaurwa pointed out.

Jane Duncan, professor of journalism at the University of Johannesburg, said Black Wednesday was now important as a platform for discussions on media freedom "and the extent to which media freedom has improved from all those years ago".

Despite problems facing journalism in the country, there was a lot to be celebrated, Duncan said.

"In spite of the global decline in the quality of journalism, we're seeing some very exciting things happening in journalism in South Africa.

"Investigative journalism has been enormously strengthened," she added.