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!

When Capital Radio Defied The Apartheid Censors

In the 1980s there were several songs which Capital Radio playlisted or at least played which were banned by the Directorate of Publications or ‘avoided’ by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). This week’s playlist includes 21 songs which capture a cross-section of issues the government did not want South Africans to hear, as it tried to foster a racially separated, religiously and morally conservative  apartheid society.

For less than two decades, from late 1979 until 1996, independent radio station Capital Radio was to be heard over the South African airwaves. During the apartheid era it intentionally set out to be an alternative to apartheid government controlled SABC radio stations. The station broadcast from the Transkei Wild Coast, using the supposed independence of Transkei as a loophole to circumnavigate the Nationalist government’s tight control of South Africa’s airwaves. While Capital Radio was always foremost a commercial venture, it nevertheless forged a far more liberal path than the censorial and conservative apartheid SABC alternatives. This was especially seen in its liberal news reporting and its more liberal approach to the music it played and playlisted.

In South Africa official censorship took two forms: First, the Directorate of Publications was the official state censorship institution, banning thousands of publications every year: from books, magazines and pamphlets to objects, cassettes and vinyl records. Most of its attention focused on printed material but it nevertheless banned approximately 150 singles and albums between 1963 and 1992. Not all music was vetted, only music which was submitted in the form of a formal complaint. Second, the government broadcaster, the SABC practiced widespread censorship, vetting all music prior to possible airplay through its formal censorship committees. The SABC was far more severe than the Directorate of Publications, censoring thousands of songs if there was any suggestion that they might be controversial.

Both the Directorate of Publications and the SABC censored music for political, moral and religious reasons. This included songs that were directly anti-apartheid, which were rebellious, encouraged insurrection and protest in general or were anti-government in general as well as anything which was regarded as blasphemous, pro-Satanism, sexual, contained swearing and which promoted drug use. The SABC further censored songs if they mixed languages, which was against the apartheid state’s apartheid policy of separating the cultures of the country’s different ethnic groups.

Four of the songs on this mixtape were banned by the Directorate of Publications but played by Capital Radio: 

On its very first day of broadcast Capital played Don McLean’s “American Pie” as its number 16 best song of all time: the Directorate of Publications banned the song because it viewed the song as blasphemous with lines like: “No angel born in hell could break that Satan’s spell; And as the flames climbed high into the night; To light the sacrificial rite, I saw Satan laughing with delight” and “The father, son and holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast.”

Right from the start, Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” featured on the Capital Radio weekly Top 40 Countdown, including three weeks at number one in January-February 1980. It was indeed a huge hit in South Africa, also reaching the top of the charts on SABC’s Radio 5 and Springbok Radio. However, when the song had already sold 90