South African Songs About Political Places

Music has the ability to capture moments and sentiments. On occasion it reminds us of places and also of events which transpired in those places. This mixtape includes a selection of musical pieces written about political events which unfolded in specific places in South Africa. Some of these focus on particular events such as the Rivonia Treason Trial, the Mdantsane bus strike, and the Marikana Massacre, while the majority reflect in one way or another on that especially heartless apartheid practice of forced removals: moving people against their will from the place they called home to a different, hostile, and unfriendly place: away from one’s community, away from all the familiar associations of home. Because forced removals were so painful it is no surprise that there are so many compositions about places from which people were forced to move by the apartheid state. Sophiatown, Cato Manor, Crossroads, and District Six are covered in this mixtape . People lost their homes and their communities but held onto their memories … and the songs remain.

One of the songs included here captures the mood of most, if not all, the pieces featured on this mixtape. In Mdantsane in July 1983, in response to severe price increases, a boycott was called, of buses partly owned by the Ciskei government. The apartheid Ciskei security forces, supported by vigilantes, attempted to force people to use the buses, resulting in bloody assaults, injuries and death. Johnny Clegg and Sipho Mchunu wrote the song “Mdantsane” about the bus boycott. They asked, “Why don’t you sing about the African moon; Why don’t you sing about the leaves and the dreams; Why don’t you sing about the rain and the birds?” And they answered, “’Cause mister I’ve seen mud coloured dusty blood; Bare feet on a burning bus; Broken teeth and a rifle butt; On the road to Mdantsane.”

All the musicians on this mixtape similarly chose to document government and employer atrocities rather than to only sing about the leaves and the dreams.

Mzwakhe Mbuli contemplated the apartheid legislative capital, Pitoli, Dolly Rathebe & the Elite Swingsters commemorated the accused at the Rivonia treason trial, and Lesego Rampolokeng and the Kalahari Surfers reflected on the Sebokeng siege. The Junction Avenue Theatre Company (who performed the musical Sophiatown), the African Jazz Pioneers, and Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks all lament the forced removals from and bulldozing of Kofifi/Sophiatown, while Nancy Jacobs & her Sisters sang about people’s reluctance to be moved from Sophiatown to Meadowlands, established by the apartheid state as an alternative township to Sophiatown. In a song named after Soweto, Barry Gilder sings of the struggle to live and work in South Africa, in a society where people were expected to travel vast distances under the migrant labour system, yet whose lives were not valued by business owners and the government. Stimela’s “Soweto save the children” alerted listeners to the detrimental effects apartheid was having on the children of Soweto.

The only song on this mixtape about a post-apartheid atrocity is Lilitha’s mournful “Marikana” about the Marikana Massacre. A reminder that the alliance between the government and capital continues to be problematic, even in a post-1994 government, and an even harsher reminder as to where exactly the state is prepared to draw a moral line.

Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed remembered Cato Manor in the Durban area and Juluka documented the violence surrounding the Mdantsane bus boycott. The mixtape ends with a series of songs related to the Western Cape. Winston Mankunku and Mike Perry, Sakhile, Syd Kitchen, and Roger Lucey all contributed songs about the apartheid state’s attack on the residents of Crossroads, targeted for forced removal. “Mooi River Textiles” is a song by workers at that factory, recorded and documented by Shifty Records. Finally Cyril Valentine (with a song from the District Six musical), Hugh Masekela (featuring Corlea) and Abdullah Ibrahim, remember District Six, another area which the apartheid state decided to bulldoze into oblivion and forcibly remove all its inhabitants because they decided to rezone it as a white area.

Sometimes the songs on this mixtape are a mournful and painful reminder of places, and sometimes they recall spirited community togetherness. They often remind us of defiance – that people resisted and continue to resist oppressive laws, policies and actions. Crucially, they are documents of the events that occurred and of the places where they took place. As long as this music plays we cannot be allowed to forget.

  1. Pitoli – Mzwakhe Mbuli
  2. Rivonia – Dolly Rathebe & The Elite Swingsters
  3. Sebokeng Siege – Lesego & Kalahari Surfers
  4. Kofifi Sophia – Junction Avenue Theatre Company
  5. Kofifi – African Jazz Pioneers
  6. Sophiatown Is Gone – Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks
  7. Meadowlands – Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters
  8. Soweto Song – Barry Gilder
  9. Soweto Save The Children – Stimela
  10. Marikana – Lilitha
  11. Remember Cato Manor – Sipho Gumede & Pops Mohamed
  12. Mdantsane – Juluka
  13. Crossroads Crossroads – Winston Mankunku & Mike Perry
  14. Crossroads – Sakhile
  15. Crossroads – Syd Kitchen
  16. Crossroads – Roger Lucey
  17. Mooi River Textiles – Fosatu Worker Choirs
  18. Heart Of District Six – Cyril Valentine
  19. District SixHugh Masekela & Corlea
  20. District SixAbdullah Ibrahim

Songs About South African Places

To mark Heritage Day we have chosen a playlist of songs by South African musicians about South African places. Something homely to cuddle up with, or if you’re feeling active, to jive to. There are far more songs about South African places than we can fit on one mixtape, but we hope this is a good representation of songs and places. It’s a starting point: there will be more to come in this series where music and places meet.

There are all sorts of reasons someone could write and perform a song about a place. Often it is out of fondness, sometimes out of loathing or frustration, or simply because it is where one happens to be when a moment of song-writing inspiration hits. And at times it could be ironic, out of both loathing and attraction, where one isn’t entirely sure which it is.

The twenty songs on this mixtape begin in Cape Town, with Sabenza’s “CT Blues” and then Dollar Brand’s iconic “Mannenberg”, both of which feature Basil Coetzee. We end our stay in the Western Cape with Hotep Idris Galeta’s “Cape Town Before Midnight” before travelling north east along the coast to “Ebhayi”, as celebrated by Ami Faku. Then it is to the KwaZulu-Natal coast for Trans.Sky’s song about “Durban Poison” and Urban Creep’s “Sea Level”, both of those songs feature Brendan Jury and both are somewhat ambivalent about Durban, as many residents are. In 1977 Rabbitt were asked to write the theme tune for a new tv programme – The Dingleys – about a bookshop in Pietermaritzburg. Although the shop is fictional, Rabbitt nevertheless captured various aspects of Pietermaritzburg which remind us of the city at that time.

Next we move up to the Gauteng region for the remainder of the mixtape, starting with the Radio Rats’ celebration of Springs in “East Rand Town Called Springs” and then onto a series of Soweto-themed songs: “Orlando” by Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks, “Soweto Inn” by the Movers, Sipho Mabuse’s “Jive Soweto” and Tribe After Tribe’s “Suburb In The South”. Just a short drive from Soweto is the southern suburb of Rosettenville to which Van der Want/Letcher pay homage in the satirical “Rosettenville Blues”. The Julian Laxton Band contribute the offbeat “Johannesburg” and the Gereformeerde Blues Band pay tribute to Hillbrow with a classic Voëlvry song of that name. Then on to “Living In Yeoville” by the Aeroplanes, a song which will tweak on the heartstrings of lefties who lived in Yeoville in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers bring us back down to earth with “Johannesburg”, a city where dreams come to die. We move north east with Moses Molelekwa’s “Spirit Of Tembisa” and further north east again with Vusi Mahlasela’s tribute to Mamelodi, “Hello Mams”. James Phillips as Bernoldus Niemand ends things with his ironic tribute to Pretoria (as it was then), “Snor City”, about the growth of hair above the lip of every white man who passed him by on the street. As he lamented, the longer he waited, the more his hope diminishes.

Thanks to South African musicians for writing and performing songs that have become the soundtrack of our lives, and for those moments, celebrated on this mixtape, when creativity captures this place we come from.

  1. CT Blues – Sabenza
  2. Mannenberg – Dollar Brand
  3. Cape Town After Midnight – Hotep Idris Galeta
  4. Ebhayi – Ami Faku
  5. Durban Poison – Trans.Sky
  6. Sea Level – Urban Creep
  7. Dingley’s Bookshop – Rabbitt
  8. East Rand Town Called Springs – Radio Rats
  9. Orlando – Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks
  10. Soweto Inn – The Movers
  11. Jive Soweto – Sipho Mabuse
  12. Suburb in the South – Tribe After Tribe
  13. Rosettenville blues – Van der Want/Letcher
  14. Johannesburg – Julian Laxton Band
  15. Hillbrow – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  16. Living in Yeoville – The Aeroplanes
  17. Johannesburg – Lesego Rampolokeng & the Kalahari Surfers
  18. Spirit of Tembisa – Moses Molelekwa
  19. Hello Mams – Vusi Mahlasela
  20. Snor City – Bernoldus Niemand

Censorship – Capital Played What SABC Would Not!

The first mixtape in our censorship series featured songs which Capital Radio played but which were banned from airplay on the SABC. We end our censorship series with a sequel to that first mixtape: focusing on 20 more songs which charted or were playlisted on Capital but which were ‘avoided’ by the SABC.

Back in September 1980, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” was playlisted on Capital Radio. It is not clear whether or not the SABC censors realized the drug reference in the song, or even if they checked the lyrics at all, because the entire album was banned by the apartheid government’s Directorate of Publications. And so the SABC shelved the whole bang shoot, including “Comfortably Numb”.

“Tyler” by UB40 reached number one on Capital Radio on the 20th of June 1981, and stayed there for one week. As far as the SABC censors were concerned, UB40 were guilty of recording a politically provocative song. The song was about the racially-biased trial of 17 year old Gary Tyler who was convicted of murder by an all-white jury in Louisiana, despite several irregularities in the prosecution’s evidence and the lack of a murder weapon. The chorus lamented, “Tyler is guilty, the white judge has said so; What right do we have to say it’s not so.” The censors believed that the song was too similar to the apartheid context to be spun on South African radio. And so it wasn’t.

“Ghost Town” by the Specials spent two weeks at number one on the Capital Countdown on the 19th and 26th of September 1981. It reflected the dire situation in inner cities in England, including urban decay, unemployment, and violence. Its release coincided with the riots in places like Brixton and so became a soundtrack to the riots. Lines like “Government leaving the youth on the shelf”, “No job to be found in this country, can’t go on” and “The people getting angry” also spoke to the South African situation. Out of fear the SABC censors decided not to play it.

“Reggae Man” by John Miles peaked at number 22 on the Capital Top 40 on the 2nd of January 1982. Despite John Miles claiming “the reggae man good for you”, the SABC censors banned the song from airplay because it mentioned marijuana use, especially because the reggae man was “growing weed” and could “take you so high”.

“Golden Brown” by the Stranglers spent one week at number one on the Capital Countdown on the 24th of April 1982. Many listeners regarded ‘golden brown’ as an ode to heroin, as did the SABC censors who consequently ‘avoided’ it. Perceptive listeners interpreted ‘golden brown’ as referring jointly to a woman and heroin, both of whom help the protagonist to escape into peaceful, distant places. Or perhaps the SABC censors DID realize that the song was about a white man singing about a black lover …

In late 1981, Epic released Dutch band Quick’s song “Zulu” in South Africa . It was playlisted on Capital Radio in May and June 1982 but banned from airplay on the SABC because the censors believed its contentious lyrics hinted at a Zulu uprising, even though the lyrics seem to be referring to a bygone colonial era: “Pick up that spear and fight; Now that the time is right; Zulu man; Sound of the burning flight; Run like the wind tonight; Zulu man.”

Third World’s “Try Jah Love” spent two weeks at number four on the Capital Countdown on the 19th and 26th of June 1982. The SABC censors viewed Rastafarianism as a false religion or cult, and being uptight conservative Christians they banned anything that promoted Rastafarianism, including songs with the word ‘Jah’ in them. So it was goodbye to “Try Jah Love”.

There was no doubt about the drug reference in Rita Marley’s “One Draw” which was playlisted on Capital in July 1982. Marley begins the song by singing “I wanna get high, so high, I wanna get high so high, I wanna get high, so high, I wanna get high, so high, one draw, one draw”. This also turned out to be the chorus, so the SABC prevented the song from getting anywhere near the South African airwaves.

Rita Marley’s late husband, Bob Marley, also got jilted by the SABC censors in 1982. His song “Natural Mystic” was playlisted on Capital in August 1982. The song warns of the approaching apocalypse as described in the book of Revelations, with reference to trumpets blowing and “a natural mystic blowing through the air”. While the song is quite vague it does have political undertones, especially to the paranoid ear. Marley refers to “Many more will have to suffer, many more will have to die” and “can’t keep them down”. The SABC censors must have feared that this could be interpreted as an overtly political song applicable to South Africa, so they banned it from airplay.

Pink Floyd’s “Not Now John” reached number 25 on the Capital Top 40 on the 18th of June 1983. It is a critique of western global politics and corporate greed. The SABC censors, primed as they were to detect swear words, would have had no need to go beyond the first two lines: “Fuck all that we’ve gotta get on with these; Fuck all that, Fuck all that”. Which pretty much summed up the SABC censors’ sentiments towards the possibility of airplay for the song.

“She’s Sexy (And 17)” by the Stray Cats peaked on Capital Radio at number 23 on the 29th of October 1983. The word ‘sexy’ no doubt raised the suspicions of the censors who went on to ‘avoid’ the song because of its rebellious tone and suggestions of promiscuity. This included mildly rebellious sentiments such as “I ain’t goin’ to school no more; It starts much, much too early for me; I don’t care about readin’, writin’, ’rithmatic or history” and slightly sexual allusions like, “Acts a little bit obscene; gotta let off a little bit of steam”. It would have been viewed as irresponsible to air such sentiments on public radio with a large school-going audience. So it was avoided.

Despite spending two weeks at number one on Capital on the 28th of April and 5th of May 1984, “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood was barred from airplay on SABC. The song was far too sexually overt for the narrow-minded censors to accept: “Relax don’t do it, when you want to come; Relax don’t do it, When you want to suck it, chew it” and then later in the song: “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow uh, I’m coming, I’m coming yeah.” Well, Frankie my dear, not on the SABC.

Bright Blue’s “Window On The World” peaked at number 11 on the Capital Countdown on the 10th of November 1984. Given that the SABC was an ideological wing of the apartheid state it is not surprising that they objected to the song. It commented on the disquiet which many white South African males felt about being conscripted into a war they did not want to fight. While the rhythm is upbeat and even jovial, the lyrics lament the situation of “The young men marching everywhere, trying their best to escape” and “The young men marching everywhere, not sure how to cope.” Capital had the perceptive foresight to air the song.

“Steel Claw” by Dave Edmunds was playlisted on Capital in early 1985. While being a fairly cryptic song the SABC nevertheless objected to the political lines, “The politicians have forgotten this place”, and “So many people hanging onto the edge; Crying out for revolution, retribution.”

Don Henley’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” peaked at number 25 on the Capital Top 40 on the 27th of July 1985. The song is generally viewed as a critique of Reagan-era USA intervention in Central and South America. The woman in the song is seemingly oblivious to all the military shenanigans going on around her because “all she wants to do is dance”. The song includes lines like “Rebels been rebels since I don’t know when; But all she wants to is dance” and “Molotov cocktail – the local drink; When all she wants to do is dance”. For the SABC censors these references to war resembled the guerrilla warfare South Africa was involved in. They thus decided it was safest to ban the song from airplay.

Night Ranger’s “Sentimental Street” peaked at number 23 on the Capital Countdown on the 28th of September 1985. It is not immediately apparent why this song was ‘avoided’ by the SABC censors. It is about a person watching someone else walking down a street called Sentimental Avenue, and reflecting on their life. Perhaps the censors thought the line “Did you get your fill? Did you think you had to pay?” referred to prostitution. But it seems a flimsy reason to censor a song.

“Your Latest Trick” by Dire Straits peaked at number seven on the 14th of June 1986. The protagonist in the song describes the down town scene in a city: “And most of the taxis, most of the whores; Are only taking calls for cash”. That, together with reference to the prostitute’s “latest trick”, was enough for the SABC censors to ‘avoid’ the song.

Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing” went to number one on the Capital Countdown on the 3rd of June 1989, where it spent one week. The ‘wild thing’ referred to by Tone Loc was inconsequential sex for fun. The song describes various scenarios where this happened to the central character. In one scenario, for example, he describes how he “Couldn’t get her off my jock, she was like static cling; But that’s what happens when bodies start slappin’ from doin’ the wild thing.” The SABC censors promptly slapped the song with an airplay banning order.

In “Together As One” Lucky Dube asked the question, “Too many people hate apartheid, why do you like it?” The SABC censors’ answer was to ban the song from airplay. However, on Capital it reached number two, where it spent two weeks, on the 3rd and 10th of June 1989.

If anything, Salt N Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” is a positive song about the importance of sex education. It charted on Capital in late 1991, reaching number 6 on the 7th of December 1991 (we’re not sure if it moved further up the chart because we are missing some charts). In the song they sing, “Now we talk about sex on the radio and video shows; Many will know, anything goes; Let’s tell it like it is; How it was, and of course, how it should be; Those who think it’s dirty have a choice; Pick up the needle, press pause, or turn the radio off.” Talk about inviting the censors to the party! They needed no second bidding and couldn’t get to the record player quick enough … and picked up the needle for the entire nation.

Fortunately Capital Radio didn’t waste money and time on censorship committees and sticky pieces of paper with ‘avoid’ written on them. Capital listeners got to hear a wider array of music both musically and lyrically, often not even realizing that the SABC wasn’t playing some of their favourite songs. They were encouraged to be more open-minded and free. Which is exactly what the apartheid censors were trying to repress. This mixtape goes out to Capital Radio, for being there when South Africans needed you most!

  1. Window On The World – Bright Blue
  2. Not Now John – Pink Floyd
  3. Relax – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
  4. Let’s Talk About Sex – Salt N Pepa
  5. All She Wants To Do Is Dance – Don Henley
  6. Steel Claw – Dave Edmunds
  7. She’s Sexy (And 17) – Stray Cats
  8. Sentimental Street – Night Ranger
  9. Your Latest Trick – Dire Straits
  10. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
  11. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
  12. Ghost Town – The Specials
  13. Tyler – UB40
  14. Reggae Man – John Miles
  15. Natural Mystic – Bob Marley
  16. One Draw – Rita Marley
  17. Together As One – Lucky Dube
  18. Try Jah Love – Third World
  19. Zulu – The Quick
  20. Wild Thing – Tone Loc

Censorship – To Get Played On The SABC, Watch What You Say

So far the censorship series has explored how the apartheid state’s Directorate of Publications and South African Broadcasting Corporation censored music in South Africa. This mixtape considers how state censorship in turn placed pressure on record companies and artists to regulate music in the form of self-censorship.

Immense pressure was placed on record companies to ensure that albums weren’t controversial. Failure to do so was likely to result in music either being banned outright by the Directorate and/or not receiving airplay on the SABC and independent radio stations. The buying public would be unlikely to hear the music, almost definitely resulting in financial loss for the record companies. As a consequence of the maze of formal censorship to be negotiated, record companies (especially the majors) were cautious about what they would record and, in turn, placed pressure on musicians to tone down their lyrics if they wanted their music recorded and released.

All the examples on this mixtape are of self-censorship in advance of government or SABC intervention. So we won’t be including instances such as songs left off an album after the album was banned by the Directorate of Publications in a censored re-release of the album, such as happened with Peter Tosh’s Equal Rights album after it was banned because of the song “Apartheid”. CBS then re-released the album without the banned track.

This mixtape begins with a bizarre example of self-censorship, where the South African distributor, Atlantic Recording Corporation, decided that the line “fuck a star” from the Rolling Stones’ chorus for “Star Star” (itself a censored title on the original UK release) could likely lead the album to be banned by the Directorate of Publications. As a compromise they decided to obscure the word ‘fuck’ by adding a drumbeat every time ‘fuck’ was uttered. The result was bizarre , as you can hear. Likewise, when the record company wanted to release Don Gibson’s Sensual Woman album they were concerned that the Directorate of Publications would ban the album because of the word ‘sensual’ (this was the early 1970s after all). They got Gibson to re-record the title track replacing ‘sensual woman’ with ‘beautiful woman’ and they also changed the album title accordingly.

In the case of Roger Lucey’s debut album, The Road is Much Longer, 3rd Ear Music received legal advice to the effect that, in terms of security legislation, some of the statements on the album could lead to long-term prison sentences and/or heavy fines for both Roger Lucey and Dave Marks of 3rd Ear Music. As a result two versions of the album were released. One of two omissions on the commercial release of the album was a verse of “You Only Need Say Nothing”:

There’s teargas at the funeral
Of a boy gunned down by cops
They say there’s too many mourners
And this is where it stops
Then they bring on the boots and the batons
And the blood runs fear and cold
And the moral of the story
Is to do what you are told

In several instances a song was simply omitted from an album in order to avoid possible censorship. In the mid-1960s Louis Armstrong’s “You are woman, I am man” was left off the South African release of his Hello Dolly album, presumably because of the line “You are woman, I am man. Let’s kiss”. For good measure, the first South African pressing also removed Louis Armstrong’s photograph from the album cover, presumably to hide the fact that he was black. This would have been more for sales than censorship reasons, London Records being afraid that (musically ignorant) racist whites would not buy the album if they knew the singer was black.

Jose Feliciano begins his 1969 Alive O album, with a short guitar rendition of “God Save the Queen” which was omitted from the South African release. Teal Record Company was clearly concerned that the British national anthem would irk the South African authorities, just years after the country’s departure from the British Commonwealth. In the 1980s EMI omitted “Burden of Shame” from UB40’s Signing Off album. The song criticized Britain’s supportive role of the apartheid government. In further examples, the songs “Tribute to Steve Biko” by Tapper Zukie and “South African Enlistment” by the Abyssinians were left off the South African releases of the Frontline II and Frontline III reggae compilations respectively. Both song expressed anti-apartheid attitudes. And “Mandela” was one of two songs which Mountain Records omitted from Aaron Davis’ Neon Bible album.

Anticipating problems at the SABC over Mi-Sex’s name, CBS released the group’s “Computer Games” single under the name ‘M.S.’ However, given that the Directorate was unlikely to ban an album on the basis of Mi-Sex’s name, the album Graffiti Crimes was released under the band’s full name. Culture Club’s “The Church of the Poison Mind” was released as a single entitled “Poison Mind” out of concern that the SABC censors would view the original title as blasphemous. When Santana’s Freedom album was released in South Africa the instrumental song “Mandela” was changed to “Mandel” to avoid using the name of South Africa’s most famous political prisoner.

Several South African musicians experienced record company pressure to censor their albums. For example, Neil Solomon, whose debut album The Occupant was released by WEA, changed the song “Strangler” to “Stranger” to improve the song’s chances of radio play. Juluka recorded their first album, Universal Men, in 1979, a few months before Zimbabwe’s independence. When recording the song “Sky People”, the line “The drums of Zimbabwe speak” was changed it to ‘The drums of Zambezi speak’ for fear that the reference to changes in Zimbabwe rolling into South Africa was too overt.

Rabbitt recorded a cover version of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” for airplay, and changed the line “got him by the balls” to “got him by the horns”. Another Jo’burg Records band, the Radio Rats, were persuaded to change their song “Fucking About in the Dungeons All Day” to “Mucking About in the Dungeons All Day” in order to avoid censorship. Freedom’s Children were persuaded to change the name of the song “The Kid He Came From Nazareth” to the absurd “The Kid He Came From Hazareth” because Parlophone feared censorial repercussions for blasphemous reasons.

Some musicians avoided overt political references by writing symbolically about South African politics. One of the most famous examples was a play on wording by Chicco (Sello Twala) on his single “We miss you Manelow”, a slightly disguised reference to Nelson Mandela which was understood by many listeners.

Joseph Shabalala claimed to have written symbolic songs about the South African political situation. For example, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s 1973 song “Nomathemba”, a song about a girl who Shabalala described as a symbol of hope. Shabalala said he was actually referring to South Africa though: that people should not lose hope and come together.
Equally cryptic was Steve Kekana’s song “The Bushman” about a hunter-gatherer who taught himself to shoot with a bow and arrow:

He lives under a tree
Hides himself and sleeps
His mind is tuned to be aware of danger
He never makes mistakes
Survival is his way
At nights he plays a song an a wooden kalimba
Wo ho the bushman
He fights like a man should do
He strives like a man should do…

These sentiments complied with apartheid notions of blacks as primitive and the song was played on SABC. However, Kekana explained that he wasn’t referring to a real “bushman” but rather to ANC guerrillas.

Nevertheless, the more cryptic the symbolism was, the less likely listeners were to realize there was anything resistant about the song at all, in which case, in terms of political sentiments, the song might as well have been left off the album altogether. The most troublesome aspect of formal censorship then, is the way censors’ actions begin to mess with artists’ creativity, so that they begin to police their own output. When this happens, censors have realized their ultimate goal.

  1. Star Star – Rolling Stones
  2. Mucking Around The Dungeons – Radio Rats
  3. Locomotive Breath – Rabbitt
  4. The Kid He Came From Hazareth – Freedom’s Children
  5. The Stranger – Neill Solomon 
  6. Sky People – Juluka 
  7. South African Enlistment – The Abyssinians 
  8. Tribute To Steve Biko – Taper Zukie
  9. Burden Of Shame – UB40
  10. The Bushman – Steve Kekana
  11. We Miss You Manelow – Chicco
  12. Church Of The Poison Mind – Culture Club
  13. Computer Games – Mi Sex
  14. Mandela – Santana
  15. Mandela – Aaron Davis
  16. You Are Woman, I Am Man – Louis Armstrong
  17. Nomathemba – Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  18. You Only Need Say Nothing – Roger Lucey
  19. Beautiful Woman – Don Gibson
  20. God Save The Queen – Jose Feliciano

Censorship – World Politics Avoided On The SABC

A glance through the political songs banned from airplay by the SABC censors reveals how many broad political issues, which do not relate directly to South Africa, were nevertheless included on the ‘avoid’ lists. The censors, politically conservative and paranoid about anything controversial, tended to err on the side of political caution when deciding whether or not to grant airplay. This mixtape features a variety of such political songs, regarded as too contentious for the South African airwaves.

“Modern Times” is the title track off Latin Quarter’s debut album, with reference to Modern Times, the  satirical Charlie Chaplin film. The song is a critique of the effects of McCarthyism on Hollywood: “So get up! Go on! Grip that stand! And press your hand to your heart. Big Mac is asking the questions. And this is only the start…”. It is not clear whether or not the SABC censors realized what the song was about, but the beginning of the song – about protest not being allowed – would have been too political, regardless of the rest of the song.

“Black In America” by Jesse Johnson also focuses on politics in the USA, this time dealing with racial inequality, noting that “still we fight for the rights to be black and brown and set free”. For the SABC censors, the parallels with South Africa were too strong to ignore. The same can be said for “Wounded Knee” by Booker T and Priscilla and “White Fool” by Clannad. The former refers to the loss of nearly three hundred Lakota people and their land at the hands of the United States Army in the Wounded Knee Massacre of December 1890: “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee … and when you stole their land you stole their bones”. The latter song describes the experience of an unnamed tribe whose land has been stolen by imperialists: “Greed and lust, it stripped the earth bare; When the white fool came to a new land”.

The Flying Pickets were named after mobile strikers who travelled around the United Kingdom to join striking workers picketing at different workplaces. Their song, “Remember This”, is a protest against the countless Chilean citizens who disappeared and were killed by the military junta, leading the band to conclude “too many people have disappeared to doubt what has been done”. Perhaps in the minds of the censors the disappearance of political activists opposing the Chilean regime was too similar to what was happening to activists fighting the apartheid government, so the song was banned from airplay.

Any reference to revolutions was simply far too contentious for the censors to accommodate and so Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution”, Culture’s “Revolution Time” and The Cult’s “Revolution” didn’t stand a chance of airplay. While the first two songs were overtly about political revolution it is not clear whether the Cult’s song is about political revolution at all, with lines like, “Joy or sorrow. What does revolution mean to you?” Meanwhile, Sam Cooke’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The wind” asked politically uncomfortable questions like “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?”

Hotline’s “Freedom” was a call for personal freedom against everyday regulations (“We’ve got no bloody freedom”) and was also banned from airplay, for good measure. In Def Leppard’s “Run Riot”, listeners are encouraged to escape the boredom of following rules and urged to “break a rule or two” and ultimately to run riot. The message in “The Knife” by Genesis was that violent revolutions lead to the rise of dictators. It includes lines like “Stand up and fight for we know we are right” and “We are only wanting freedom”. Both songs were regarded as too politically contentious for the South African airwaves.

The Style Council’s “With Everything To Lose” is a general critique of Thatcher’s Tory government, especially providing a critique of the British racist class system and was met with disapproval by the SABC censors who took  exception to lines like “The shit goes to the blacks; a generation’s heart torn out”. Joe Jackson’s “Tango Atlantico” refers to the Falklands War, referencing the atrocities of the war: “Sorry Tommy. Lost a foot? Bloody land mines. No more soccer for you”. Once again, the parallels to the South African context were too similar to be ignored by the censors, who felt that any sort of anti-war message would potentially harm the apartheid war effort.

Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is also an anti-war song, although on a generic level: the generals who organise wars are the ‘war pigs’ who declare wars and then hide away while poor people are dispensed with like pawns on the battle grounds. John Fogerty explores a similar theme in “Violence Is Golden”  but in this instance the protagonist is an arms dealer who sells arms to both sides of any war that’s happening. He doesn’t care about the issues but just wants to make money. The SABC censors were probably most irked by lines in which the arms for sale were listed, “Pass another plate of shrapnel; sprinkle it with TNT; Gotta have another grenade salad; split it with your enemy”.

Ironically “Union Man” by the Cate Brothers is sung from the point of view of a worker who is “working like a fool for my pay” and is told by the ‘union man’ that he has to go on strike, but he doesn’t want to, because he is worried about the bills he has to pay. Such was the paranoia of the SABC censors that they appeared to ban it from airplay simply because it referred to trade union activities, even though in South Africa trade unions were legal.

Similarly to Hotline’s “Freedom”, Depeche Mode’s “Black Celebration” was about personal issues, not political issues, but the SABC censors were afraid that the title might be misunderstood in South Africa, even though the lyrics clearly state: “Let’s have a black celebration, black celebration, tonight; To celebrate the fact, that we’ve seen the back, of another black day”.

Carte Blanche’s “Killer In The Crowd” is a fairly general and cryptic song about a policeman, a ‘killer in the crowd’, who is there to “stop the fighting”. Even though Carte Blanche tried to slip the song passed the censors by adapting the lyric sheet, changing “I’m just a policeman, a martyr in blue, to “I’m just a please man, a tomato in blue” the censors nevertheless objected to lines like “My hand is a pistol, my foot … a grenade”.

“Fight” by the Rolling Stones is a song about … well, fighting. It includes gory descriptions of what the protagonist plans to do to people: “There’s a hole where your nose used to be; Gonna kick you out my door” and “Gonna blow you to a million pieces; Blow you sky high, I don’t care”. While the sheer violence of the songs was enough for the SABC censors to ban it from airplay, the reference to someone being blown up in a bombing was also politically contentious.

Closer to home than all the other songs on this mixtape is Nana Coyote’s “Namibia 435”, an upbeat celebration of the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 435 which called for the withdrawal of South African forces from Namibia in the build up to Namibian independence. Even though the South African government had agreed to the process and Namibia was to be granted independence, the censors seemingly objected to a song which celebrated the event.

Just as the apartheid regime could not stem the winds of change blowing across the African continent, the SABC censors ultimately could not prevent the liberation of the South African airwaves. The SABC wasted years of working hours and large sums of money trying to stop South Africans from hearing music which they deemed unacceptable, and then the entire charade ended. We can now listen to what we want to and broadcasters can play whatever they like, provided they observe broadcast regulations which outlaw songs promoting hate speech and which keep overtly offensive songs to watershed periods: between 21h00 and 05h00. And on the internet pretty much anything goes no matter what time it is. Enjoy!

  1. Modern Times – Latin Quarter
  2. Black In America – Jesse Johnson
  3. Talkin’ Bout A Revolution – Tracy Chapman
  4. Remember This – Flying Pickets
  5. Tango Atlantico – Joe Jackson
  6. With Everything To Lose – Style Council
  7. Union Man – Cate Brothers
  8. Blowin’ In The Wind – Sam Cooke
  9. Wounded Knee – Booker T & Priscilla Jones
  10. Violence Is Golden – John Fogerty
  11. Killer In The Crowd – Carte Blanche
  12. Black Celebration – Depeche Mode
  13. White Fool – Clannad 
  14. Revolution – The Cult
  15. Freedom – Hotline
  16. Fight – Rolling Stones
  17. Run Riot – Def Leppard
  18. Namibia 435 – Nana Coyote 
  19. The Knife – Genesis
  20. War Pigs – Black Sabbath

Censorship – No Anti-Apartheid Sentiment On The SABC

The SABC was a central component of the apartheid government’s propaganda machine, bombarding South African citizens with entertainment and information which either promoted the government’s ideology or at the very least did not overtly oppose it. The SABC censorship committee was therefore following a very clear mandate when it prohibited any music which in some way or another opposed the government’s apartheid system.

This mixtape documents songs which tackled a variety of issues dealing with the injustices of apartheid. Most of the songs featured are by South African musicians: The Cherry Faced Lurchers, Brenda Fassie, Jennifer Ferguson, The Genuines, the Gereformeerde Blues Band, Koos Kombuis, Louis & The Jive, Sipho Mabuse, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Edi Niederlander, Savuka, Stimela and Condry Ziqubu. There are also a few international artists: Aswad, Harry Belafonte, Nona Hendryx, Latin Quarter, The Maze (featuring Frankie Beverly) and Joe Smooth.

These are just a few of the thousands of songs which fell foul of the SABC’s political censorship but nevertheless capture a cross section of the issues political songs dealt with: calling for political freedom in South Africa generally as well as the freedom of political prisoners in particular (for example Nelson Mandela), calling for justice, drawing attention to atrocities such as political detention and apartheid policing in support of unjust laws, and protesting against politicians (such as PW Botha).

A previous mixtape focused on political songs banned outright (for retail and import) by the Directorate of Publications and all songs featured on that mixtape were also necessarily banned from airplay on the SABC. They have been left out here to avoid repetition but that mixtape is recommended as an essential companion to this one.

  1. Jail To Jail – Brenda Fassie
  2. They Want To Be Free – Joe Smooth
  3. Confusion (Ma Afrika) – Condry Ziqubu
  4. Bring Him Back Home – Hugh Masekela
  5. Chant Of The Marching – Sipho Mabuse
  6. Where’s The Justice – Louis & The Jive
  7. Do It Right – The Genuines
  8. Sit Dit Af – Gereformeerde Blues Band
  9. Shot Down In The Streets – The Cherry Faced Lurchers
  10. No Rope As Long As Time – Latin Quarter
  11. Asimbonanga – Savuka
  12. Swart September – Koos Kombuis
  13. Suburban Hum – Jennifer Ferguson
  14. A New Day – Edi Niederlander
  15. Set Them Free – Aswad
  16. Move It – Harry Belafonte
  17. Freedom (South Africa) – The Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly
  18. Winds Of Change (Mandela To Mandela) – Nona Hendryx
  19. Soweto Save My Children – Stimela
  20. Soweto Blues – Miriam Makeba

Censorship – Never The Twain Shall Meet On SABC Radio

A core aspect of apartheid was to keep people apart in order to provide them with unequal resources and to treat them inequitably. There were separate areas to live in, separate buses, cinemas, park benches, public toilets, libraries, beaches, schools, hospitals, radio stations and on and on. Furthermore, the Immorality Act made it illegal for people of different races to have sex with each other, let alone get married. This mixtape delves into the SABC censors’ attempts to stop racial mixing as much as was in their stifling power to do so.

The SABC censors’ extreme paranoia about racial mixing led to the banning of politically innocuous songs like the Gladys Knight and the Pips cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together” because they believed that the lines “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free, come together right now, over me” could be interpreted to be about freedom from apartheid separation and about people of different races coming together (and that’s not even sexually). However, most of the songs banned from airplay for calling on racial unity were more overt. This included several songs which referred to inter-racial dating and god forbid, inter-racial sex.

Examples included on this mixtape include “Melting Pot” by Blue Mink which included the lines “What we need is a great big melting pot, big enough to take the world and all it’s got, keep it stirring for a hundred years or more, and turn out coffee-coloured people by the score.” The apartheid mind surely boggled. As it surely did with “Black Boys” from the Musical Hair soundtrack, which, like “Melting Pot” was also banned by the Directorate of Publications. The singers, including white women, profess that: “Black boys are nutritious, black boys fill me up, black boys are so damn yummy, they satisfy my tummy, I have such a sweet tooth, when it comes to love.” These sexual expressions did not go down well with prudish and racist 1960s apartheid sentiments.

Similarly, Gino Vanelli’s “Mama Coco” was overtly about sex between people of different races, while also managing to rhyme ‘anticipation’ which ‘Caucasian’: “I love you Mama Coco … Mama Coco such anticipation, Mama Coco, mam you’re blowing my mind, Mama Coco I’m just a male Caucasian, Mama Coco I’m a virgin to your kind.” A similar theme was explored in “Do It Anyway” by John Miles, but far less overtly: “I’m gonna do it anyway, it doesn’t matter what the people say, and in the end you all will see, the only one who’s right is me. In my own mind, she’s the right kind, even though her colour scares you, try to see straight, it’s never too late, maybe see the light of day”.

Meanwhile, Boy George’s “Girl With Combination Skin” was about inter-racial dating: “Her mother called her angel, so imagine her surprise, when she walked into the party, with a black boy at her side”. In “Basin Street Blues” the Dorsey Brothers sing of inter-racial fraternizing: “That’s where the white and dark folks meet, a heaven on earth, they call it Basin Street”, while in a cover of Freedom Children’s “Tribal Fence” Rabbitt and Margaret Singana gave the censors some worrying images to ponder censoriously upon: “Say you are my lover,
say you are my child … When will we be, past tribal fence and family tree”.

It was not only inter-racial sex and dating which caused the SABC censors to reach for the ‘avoid’ stickers. Songs which promoted inter-racial harmony in general were also frowned upon, particularly before the mid to late 1980s when various reforms meant that selected petty apartheid laws were relaxed and not all racial mixing was illegal. The political changes meant that by the mid-1980s there seems to have been a degree of confusion among the SABC censors who banned some songs about racial harmony while others with a similar theme were allowed airplay. An obvious example is “Ebony And Ivory” by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder which became a hit on SABC stations, and the government’s own Bureau for Information propaganda song – “Together We’ll Build A Brighter Future” – which could well have been ‘avoided’ given that it was so terrible, but the SABC played it regularly for a while because of government orders and probably because they got paid to play it (anyone with information about this please step forward!).

All that aside, some songs were nevertheless banned from airplay simply because they called on people to come together, even without any mention of race or ethnicity. For example, back in 1966, in “Get Together”, Julie Felix sang “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now”, and just over a decade later, “One Love” by Bob Marley & the Wailers was also prohibited from airplay for including lyrics like “One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right.”

However, the censors were most troubled by songs which specifically called for racial unity. For example, Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” was problematic in the rigid apartheid days of 1960s South Africa, as it explored friendship across races and questioned racial prejudice: “Walk me down to school, baby, everybody’s acting deaf and blind, until they turn and say, ‘Why don’t you stick to your own kind?’ My teachers all laugh, their smirking faces, cutting deep into our affairs, preachers of equality, think they believe it? Then why won’t they let us be?”

In the early 1970s, in “All Kinds Of People”, Burt Bacharach also called for inter-racial unity in the face of racial prejudice: “Light kind of people, should feel compassion, for dark kind of people, should feel compassion, and care for each other. All kinds of people, should reach out, and help one another”. Very similarly, and just one year later, Timmy Thomas (in “Why Can’t We Live Together”) sang: “No matter what colour, you are still my brother, everybody wants to live together, why can’t we be together?” Three Dog Night’s cover of “Black And White”, also from 1972, called for racial unity: “The world is black, the world is white, it turns by day and then by night. A child is black, a child is white, together they grow to see the light.” And in 1975 War released “Why Can’t We Be Friends” with the lines “The colour of your skin don’t matter to me, as long as we can live in harmony.” Along with the rest of these songs, it was banned from airplay for undermining the righteousness of racial separation which the apartheid government believed in.

In 1980, Steve Kekana released “Colour me Black”, calling for racial unity: “Won’t you colour me black, colour me white, you can colour me any way you like, colour me red, colour me brown, it’s love that makes the world go round.” And four years later, in “People Are People” Depeche Mode questioned racial and cultural prejudice: “So why should it be, you and I get along so awfully. So we’re different colours, and we’re different creeds, and different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me, though I’ve done nothing wrong, I’ve never even met you so what could I have done?”

In “One And The Same Heart” Friends First declare that racial separation is anti-biblical: “One and the same heart, yet so far apart, can’t help but wonder what the fuss is about. To a blind man a question of colour, would be so hard to work out, made in the same Godly image, but categorised by skin”. Niki Daly was also critical of apartheid separation – in “Sunny S. Africa”. The song, with an oft-repeated chorus of “That’s the way it is in sunny South Africa”, ends with the ‘chameleon dance’: a review of the number of people in South Africa who had, in the previous year, officially changed their racial classification, statistics which were published in the government gazettes. While the statistics Daly reels off reveal that many people changed from one race to another, he ends by noting that ‘No blacks became white and no whites became black’. Thus was white superiority indelibly stamped in the statute books and upheld by the SABC censors.
In “Together As One” Lucky Dube asked, “Too many people hate apartheid, why do you like it?” and then called for unity “Hey you Rastaman, Hey European, Indian man, we’ve got to come together as one.” It was not a vision shared by the SABC censors who promptly gave it the same treatment as all the other songs on this mixtape, by banning it from airplay.

Although the SABC continued to censor music until 1996, when the Broadcasting Complaints Commission came into being, they stopped taking issue with songs about togetherness by the time the ANC was unbanned in early 1990. That’s about the time when a wave of South African musicians embarked on all forms of cross-cultural musical expressions and collaborations, none of which were banned from airplay for promoting racial and cultural unity. Perhaps a theme for a future mixtape …

Playlist

  1. Colour Me Black, Steve Kekana, 00:00:00
  2. Together As One, Lucky Dube, 00:03:21
  3. One Love, Bob Marley & The Wailers, 00:07:27
  4. Melting Pot, Blue Mink, 00:10:04
  5. Black And White, Three Dog Night, 00:13:47
  6. Why Can’t We Be Friends, War, 00:17:30
  7. Society’s Child, Janis Ian, 00:21:03
  8. Get Together, Julie Felix, 00:24:09
  9. Come Together, Gladys Knight & The Pips, 00:26:44
  10. All Kinds Of People, Burt Bacharach, 00:30:01
  11. Basin Street Blues, Dorsey Brothers, 00:32:46
  12. Black Boys, Cast of ‘Hair’, 00:35:50
  13. One And The Same Heart, Friends First, 00:39:24
  14. Girl With Combination Skin, Boy George, 00:44:16
  15. Sunny South Africa, Niki Daly, 00:49:46
  16. Why Can’t We Live Together, Timmy Thomas, 00:55:18
  17. Mama Coco, Gino Vanelli, 00:59:45
  18. Tribal Fence, Rabbitt & Margaret Singana, 01:02:45
  19. Do It Anyway, John Miles, 01:06:22
  20. People Are People, Depeche Mode, 01:09:02

Censorship – Watch Your Mouth on the SABC

There were two reasons relating to SABC apartheid-era language censorship. First, the apartheid government’s separate development policy affected radio broadcast. There was to be no mixing of languages in songs played on the SABC. The SABC was divided into numerous stations which each catered for a particular language group. For example, there was an English service, an Afrikaans service and seven Radio Bantu stations, each catering for an ‘indigenous bantu’ language. Even the bilingual (English/Afrikaans) Springbok Radio did not allow the mixing of English and Afrikaans in songs. Second, songs were banned if they included what the censorship committee regarded as swear words, or more broadly, obscene language.

On this mixtape songs banned (at least in part) because of the mixing of languages were: “Uhuru” by Sankomota, “Woza Friday” by Juluka, “Boy Van Die Suburbs” and “Bokkie Bokkie” by David Kramer. In all four instances the songs included the sort of phrasing which South Africans used when talking to each other, throwing in a word or more of a different language to express themselves using the nuances of the different languages they were exposed to. But this everyday use of language fell on the monolingual ears of the censors and all were banned from airplay at the time of their release (there was a relaxing of this form of censorship in the mid-to-late 1980s).

The rest of the songs on the mixtape were banned from SABC broadcast because they included obscene language. In some of the cases here there were further reasons for being prohibited from airplay, for example “Paranoia In Parow-Noord” by Koos Kombuis which was banned for using obscene Afrikaans words such as “Doos” and “Fok” but was also banned for drug reference (“Ek rook zol”) and blasphemy (“Maar dank god”).

“Energie” by the Gereformeerde Blues Band included the line “Selfs al kak jy weens die rente” (“Even though you’re shitting yourself over the rent”). Another naughty word which led to songs being banned from airplay was “ass”, as in “All I wanna do is sit on my ass” in Queen’s “Man On The Prowl”, “And you better get your ass out the door” in Billy Joel’s “Ain’t No Crime” and “I’d say we’ve kicked some ass” in “Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts also used the word ‘ass’ in “Someday” with the line “‘I’m gonna spit in your face an’ laugh at your ass” but pushed the barrier much too far by also including the line, “listen to me you son of a bitch”. Another word to be exorcised from South African radio was ‘shit’, included in Joe Jackson’s ‘Friday” (“You’ll take any shit”), Prince’s “Housequake” (“My lord (Housequake); My lord (Housequake); Bullshit”), Monty Python’s “ Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” (Life’s a piece of shit when you look at it”), “Streetwise” by Bros (“You need the shit like a latest trend”) and “Private Life” by Grace Jones (“Attachment to obligation, through guilt and regret, shit that’s so wet”).

If fairly tame words like ‘ass’ and ‘shit’ upset the SABC censors, then more severe words like ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ must have sent shudders through the boardroom table and had the censors scrambling for their heart tablets and crucifixes. “F.R.C.” (Fat Rich Cunts) by the Screaming Jets was banned because of the word ‘cunt’ while several songs were banned for uttering some or other variation of the word ‘fuck’: “Had It With You” by the Rolling Stones (“And I love you dirty fucker’”), “The Kiss” by the Cure (“Get your fucking voice out of my head”), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Crush” (“I can’t stand this fucking rain”) and Soundgarden’s “Big Dumb Sex” with a chorus that goes “I’m gonna fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck you, fuck you”.

Reflecting on apartheid state broadcast censorship through the lens of the examples provided in this mixtape, many musicians would seemingly have concluded that the most obscene four letter word was undoubtedly ‘SABC”.

Censorship – No Rumours Of Blasphemy On The SABC

The SABC censors took it upon themselves to safeguard the narrow Calvinist worldview which the government allegedly upheld. This included commandments one, three and four: “no other gods but me” and “do not take my name in vain” (blasphemy) and “respect the sabbath day and keep it holy”. The examples included in this mixtape were deemed to have broken these commandments in one way or another.

Duane Allman and Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight” was regarded as blasphemous because of its possibly irreverent take on biblical scenarios such as Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay in Bethlehem, while Howard Tate’s “Part Time Love” fell afoul of the blasphemy criteria simply because Tate prays in anguish, “Lord, I’ve got to find me a part time love”. Similarly, in “Swearin’ To God”, Frankie Valli swore to god in thanks for the woman he addresses in the song. Other songs which were deemed to make fun of or belittle god included Bronski Beat’s “Truthdare Doubledare” in which the person singing the song asks the preacher if he thinks Jesus would like what s/he has done, and accuses the church of lying and being unfaithful to everyone, while in “Let’s Go” the Eurythmics sing “Forget about the preacher man, let’s do it on the ground’. In “Where’s The Party” by Nina Hagen, the singer claims that “Our landlord is Jesus Christ and Mickey Mouse” while in “Over The Wire”, Shriekback sing about: “The devil himself getting over the wire, well all god’s children got their dubious side; and it’s deep and dirty and it’s real wide”.

“Sheep” by Pink Floyd follows the theme of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, warning against simply following an ideology without thinking about why one is doing so. The song is written from the perspective of a sheep. The Lord’s prayer subsequently takes on a different form: “He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places; He converteth me to lamb cutlets”, which was viewed as blasphemous by the censors, as was Flash Harry’s “No Football” about not being allowed to play football on a Sunday, even though more people would have preferred to watch football than go to church.

In “Blasphemous Rumours”, Depeche Mode question human tragedy: “I don’t want to start any blasphemous rumours, but I think that God’s got a sick sense of humour; And when I die I expect to find him laughing”. Kate Bush’s “Waking The Witch”, is critical of the Christian practice of witch hunting and persecution. The SABC censors decided it was blasphemous, presumably for being critical of the religious people carrying out the practice.

Similarly, “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” by Iron Maiden was viewed as promoting some sort of witchcraft, being a song about a specially anointed person with superior powers as a clairvoyant because he is the seventh son of the seventh son.

Chris De Burgh’s “The Devil’s Eye” continues the “Spanish Train” saga in which the devil returns to control people through their tv screens. There is reference to how the devil cheated against god and won the world. Clearly, the SABC censors hadn’t gotten over the trauma of “Spanish Train” and decided to prohibit the song from airplay. “The Crippled Messiah” by Falling Mirror doesn’t include any specific reference to Christianity but the censors thought that the word ‘messiah’ must have involved some sort of suspicious reference to Jesus, the Christian ‘messiah’.

Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was written about the ups and downs of being members of Black Sabbath as a band, but was taken by the censors as a sacrilegious song about god’s ‘Sabbath’ day. Another song about being rock n’ rolls stars, AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell”, suggested that doing all the rock ‘n roll things they do put them on a highway to hell. Perhaps the censors banned it because they thought the song made the road to hell enticing for listeners. Another song about the allure of the dark side (although in a different sense) was “A Touch Of Evil” by Judas Priest, banned from airplay by the SABC censors as Satanic because of reference to “a dark angel of sin; preying deep from within; come take me in.” In the song the protagonist cannot resist the “touch of evil”.

Lucky Dube’s “Jah Live”, Carlos Dje Dje’s “Jah Give Us This Day” and Pongolo’s “Jah Do That” are all reggae songs paying homage to the Rastafarian god, ‘Jah’, and were all ‘avoided’ by the SABC censors because of their view that Jah is a false god, and thus these songs were deemed to break the first commandment, that there should be only one god, and that god was certainly not Jah.

Censorship – No Booze And Drugs On The SABC

Given that recreational drugs were illegal in apartheid South Africa it is not surprising that the SABC’s censorship committee prohibited songs about drug use on SABC radio stations. While alcohol use was not illegal, the censors extended their prohibition to songs about excessive drinking too (it seems). Sipping on a glass of wine was okay but not getting intoxicated and ending up with a hangover.

Given the SABC’s stand on drugs, it was obvious that some of the songs on this playlist were non-starters: Eric Clapton singing about getting high on cocaine, Bob Dylan urging everyone to get stoned, the Rolling Stones singing of the protagonist’s longing for ‘Sister Morphine’ while lying in a hospital bed, Black Sabbath singing an ode to the ‘sweet leaf’, Bob Marley commending kaya use and Peter Tosh calling for its legalization. Also prohibited from airplay were songs with fairly obvious drug references such as Depeche Mode’s ‘The Sweetest Perfection’, Boy George’s ‘You Are My Heroin’ and Tim Curry’s ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.

Rodriguez’s ‘Sugar Man’ was banned from airplay because he sings about a cocaine dealer and the “sugar” he is selling. Contrary to claims made in the film Searching for Sugar Man, the song was first banned on the SABC in 1993, when it was submitted on CD and not in the heady days of apartheid in the early 1970s. When the album was first released in South Africa in 1971 the record company didn’t even bother to submit it because they knew the two most obvious singles ‘Sugar Man’ and ‘I Wonder’ would be banned from airplay, and so there was no point in wasting sample copies sending them to the SABC. Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors in the film!

The censors objected to Bernoldus Niemand’s reference to “zol” in ‘East Rand Blues’, to ‘powdered goods’ and other drug references in Motley Crue’s ‘Dr Feelgood’, and to taking a toke in Grace Jones’ ‘My Jamaican Guy’. In ‘Crack in New York’, Culture sing of the danger of crack in New York, and that ganja is not the problem, and in ‘Intoxication’, Shriekback not only sing about the pleasures of intoxication but claim that god is “in the wine”. ‘Bomskok En Bablaas’ by Koos Kombuis refers to “dagga stompies” and “bablaas” which the censors regarded as sufficiently unsavoury to declare it unplayable on the airwaves.

The SABC censors also objected to the line “Someone passed some bliss among the crowd” in David Bowie’s ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’, and the reference to ‘smoking pot’ in ‘Pushing Up The Daisies’ by Psycho Reptiles. And they must have been positively shocked by ‘Chemist Girl’ by Falling Mirror in which they list drugs the chemist girl provides to drug users. Similarly, the Radio Rats reference to ‘benzene dreams’ in ‘Rocking’ did not pass the censors’ approval.

This is quite an eclectic mix of songs conjuring up a fair selection of drugs and booze. We suggest, though, that you settle for a smooth glass of red, turn up the volume, sit back, get comfortable, and enjoy!