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 90 000 copies and dropped off all the charts it was banned by the Directorate of Publications, initially because of a complaint about the song encouraging communist-type rebellion among South African youth, but also because it had become a chant among township school children opposing inferior apartheid education for black (including coloured) South Africans. On the 3rd May 1980 the Rand Daily Mail reported that both Pink Floyd’s The Wall album and “Another Brick In The Wall” single had been banned in South Africa. However, a Capital Radio spokesperson noted that “Because Transkei had not banned the LP or the single South Africans will still hear them on Capital Radio.” Indeed, when all the SABC radio stations stopped playing the song, Capital continued to give it airtime, especially when listeners started to vote for it on the daily Capital Hitline, where it featured immediately after the ban.

In late 1981 Jimmy Cliff’s “Give The People What They Want” entered the Capital Radio charts and went on to spend two weeks at number one at the beginning of 1982. The SABC steered clear of the politically-charged song but this had not deterred Capital. The entire album went on to be banned by the Directorate of Publications in February 1982, while the title track was still being played on Capital.

On the 5th September 1987 George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” went to number 1 on the Capital Countdown. It had already been ‘avoided’ by the SABC because it was regarded as promoting sexual promiscuity and was blasphemous  (“I don’t need no bible”). The Directorate of Publications soon banned the song (in October 1987). The Publications Appeal Board decided to ban the song because it was seen to be “harmful to public morals in that it is likely to make a substantial number of teenagers between 14-16 more inclined to have sex or at least confuse them in deciding what is right and wrong. There is little doubt that the South African community is strongly against sex between school children and the Board believes that this recording, which clearly includes them as likely listeners, would be harmful to them in their moral development.”

Apart from Capital Radio playing songs that had been or went on to be banned by the Directorate of Publications the station regularly played songs which listeners would not be able to hear on rival Radio 5, Springbok Radio and regional SABC radio stations, even though the songs in question were legally available in record shops. The rest of the songs featured on this mixtape were not banned by the Directorate of Publications but were banned from airplay (‘avoided’) by the SABC:

The SABC banned all Beatles music from airplay after John Lennon’s March 1966 statement that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus Christ”. Capital regularly played a variety of Beatles songs, including “Hey Jude” which featured high up on the Capital all time greats Hall of Fame charts, for example in 1984 it was number 2.

Another song that regularly featured on Capital’s all time Hall of Fame charts was Scott MacKenzie’s “San Francisco” which was avoided on SABC when it first came out. In 1960s South Africa, hippie lyrics such as “There’s a whole new generation with a new explanation”  and “Summertime will be a love-in there” were far too shocking for conservative censors.

Whereas Capital DJs like Phil Wright occasionally played Ian Dury and the Blockhead’s “Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll”, SABC DJs were not allowed that agency. The title alone was far too contentious, never mind lyrics such as “Sex and drugs and rock and roll is all my brain and body needs”.

The first South African song to become a number one hit on Capital Radio, Juluka’s “Africa”, was not played on Radio 5 because it mixed languages, which went against the SABC’s apartheid language purity policy. In addition, the lyrics referred to a song that could “heal these broken men.” And went on to say “Let us sing and we’ll walk through the dark, hand in hand, hand in hand”. It sounded all too suspicious to the SABC censors.

During 1980 and 1981 there were several South African songs that were playlisted on Capital which had been ‘avoided’ by the SABC: 

“Just Another Ruler” by Roger Lucey was not played on the SABC (in fact none of his music was played on SABC) as part of the South African Police Security Branch’s attempt to silence Roger Lucey. For the SABC this song included political contentious lines such as “And just like June ’76 when you were so surprised, surprise again will grip you.”

“Schoolboy” by the Asylum Kids was viewed as too rebellious by the SABC censors who banned it from airplay because of lyrics such as “Rules and regulations only suffocate” and “Would you like to be a schoolboy again? No! No!”

Flash Harry’s satirical reggae protest song “No Football”, about not being able to play football on a Sunday, was avoided because it was viewed as blasphemous with lyrics like “More people watch me than go to church.” That line particularly met with the disapproval of the censors.

Falling Mirror’s “Crippled Messiah” wasn’t played by the SABC because it was also regarded as blasphemous.

On the 12th March 1982 “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye peaked at number 3 on the Capital Countdown but was avoided by the SABC censors, afraid of the effect of lyrics such as “When I get this felling I need sexual healing” and “Don’t procrastinate, it’s not good to masturbate”.

“Hey Boy” by Via Afrika peaked at number 11 on the Capital Countdown on 11 June 1983, and stayed there for two weeks. The SABC avoided it because of its mildly critical view of someone in authority: “You blow your whistle … All they get from you is fares and stares … Hey listen boy, don’t waste my time”.

Donna Summer’s “Unconditional Love” peaked on the Capital Countdown at number 22 on the 10th and 17th December 1983. SABC avoided playing the song because it promoted Jah, including reference to a Rastafarian utopia: “We know a place where Jah’s people can run free; A new kind of love and we call it agape”.

In March 1985 the SABC banned all of Stevie Wonder’s music after he dedicated his Oscar Award to Nelson Mandela. However, according to a Rand Daily Mail article on 27 March 1985, Head of Music at Capital, Anthony Duke, said that the station would not adopt the same policy as the SABC because Capital did not have a political policy regarding music. Indeed Stevie Wonder’s “Lovelight In Flight” which had charted on the Capital Countdown in February and March continued to be playlisted. The SABC ended their ban on Stevie Wonder on the 19th September 1985 but during that time Capital continued to play his music.

“Private revolution” by World Party peaked on the Capital Countdown at number 21 on the 14th and 21st February 1987. This is a good example of the SABC’s paranoia about controversial words, in this case ‘revolution’. If the SABC censors had looked carefully at the words they would have seen that the song was about people saving the planet from ecological ruin by taking on a private revolution. In fact the lyrics even state, “You don’t have to do all those burning books, just revolutionize at home.”

A few months later in 1987, “Infected” by The The  peaked at number 14 on the Capital Countdown, where it spent two weeks (on the 6th and 13th June). It was ‘avoided’ by the SABC presumably because they objected to the lines, “Will lies become truths in this face of fading youth from my scrotum to your womb, your cradle to my tomb’.

“(Something inside) – So strong” by Labi Siffre was an anti-apartheid song which peaked at number 18 on the Capital Countdown on the 11th July 1987. It included protest lyrics such as “The higher you build your barriers the taller I become; The further you take my rights away, the faster I will run.” It was viewed as threatening to the security of the apartheid state and avoided on SABC.

“Missing” by Johnny Clegg’s band Savuka reached number 8 on the Capital Countdown on the 31st October 1987. It was about apartheid government repression in South Africa and how someone the singer cares about has gone missing. It was regarded as a threat to the state by the SABC, and banned from airplay.

Roger Water’s “The Tide Is Turning” was a song critical about war for entertainment purposes but conversely in favour of positive potential of popular music and musicians, specifically written in relation to the Live Aid concert which took place in July 1985. It was playlisted on Capital Radio in late 1987. The SABC misunderstood what the turning tide referred to and decided not to play the song.

“After The War” by Gary Moore reached number 8 for two weeks on the Capital Countdown on the 15th and 22nd April 1989. The SABC decided to ban it from airplay because of its anti-conscription and anti-war tone, at a time when conscription was a legal requirement in South Africa. At the time the End Conscription Campaign was gaining popularity among white youth who questioned the apartheid government’s war against their fellow South Africans. Lyrics included the lines: “A letter from the draft board put pain to your all your dreams; You’re just another number in military schemes; They marched you in a uniform you wore against your will; With lies of hope and glory they taught you how to kill.”

 

Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1984

1984 was yet another poor year for South African artists charting on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown: only nine songs in all. Two bands included in this week’s playlist did chart on Capital’s Top 40: Bright Blue with “Window on the World” and Juluka with “Work For All”.

1984 saw a continuation of some of the themes noted in 1983: there was a steady increase in musicians fusing South African neo-traditional and Western styles of music: Hotline, Juluka and Via Afrika all brought out new albums, eVoid recorded songs possibly for their next album and Bright Blue debuted with their first album. There was also a continuation of the post-punk/new wave scene with songs by Dog Detachment, Niki Daly, The Dynamics and Illegal Gathering. Happy Ships produced the quirky and catchy “Car Hooter” while there were yet again several artists with pop songs based in neo-traditional township forms: Brenda And The Big Dudes, Harari, Joy, Lumumba and Condry Zuqubu, Hugh Masekela, Sankomota and the Soul Brothers. There was also scope for musical styles not often included on our mixtapes thus far: A heavy metal song by Black Rose and Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards contributed the lone country song on this week’s mixtape.

Among the musicians who appear on this week’s playlist there is a reminder of the repressive arm of the apartheid state. The Dynamics, Juluka and Harari were regularly stopped at roadblocks and questioned about people of different race groups travelling together (Harari’s manager was a white woman). Roger Lucey had found it increasingly difficult to find venues at which to perform and broadcasters were not interested in playing his music, and so he changed his name and musical style in an attempt to resurrect his music career. As Tighthead Fourie & The Loose Forwards he hoped to at least get airplay as a country artist. To no avail.

Meanwhile in 1984 Condry Ziqubu had begun to tour in Africa and the USA with Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, and in 1985 formed the Busa musical with several exiled and South African musicians and they toured several African countries including Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Libya, Senegal and the ‘frontline’ states of Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. On their return from the tour Ziqubu and the other members of the Busa cast had their passports confiscated and were harassed by the security police.

After releasing their debut album in 1984 Bright Blue were forced to take a two-year hiatus while two of their band members – Dan Heyman and Ian Cohen – underwent conscription against which they were strongly opposed. And while touring South Africa in 1984, eVoid’s drummer – Wayne Harker – was arrested by the Military Police because he had gone AWOL in order to participate in the tour. Former eVoid drummer, Danny De Wet, stepped in so that the tour could continue.

Uhuru were a Lesotho-based band who were banned from entering in South Africa because of their political lyrics (and the band’s name didn’t help). To get around this problem Shifty Records ingeniously took their recording studio to Lesotho (in the Shifty caravan) and recorded the band’s debut album there (it was also the first album Shifty recorded). The band in the meantime changed their name to Sankomota, which made it more likely that the album could be released in South Africa without repressive consequences. In time the band relocated to South Africa and continued to perform and release new music from their new base.

Once again, huge thanks to Marq Vas for helping us source a very hard-to-find track.

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Capital 604 – The Miss Parade: 1983

1983 was the year in which the fewest South African songs charted on the Capital Radio Top 40 countdown: only eight songs made it. Yet this week’s playlist reveals that there were many more chart worthy songs. As per usual, there artists who charted but who had further songs that could have been hits, for example eVoid, Juluka and Via Afrika. But there were several others who inexplicably did not chart at all, such as Brenda and the Big Dudes (with “Weekend Special”), Steve Kekana (with “Night Boot Control”), Sipho Mabuse (with “Rise”) and Stimela (with “I Hate Telling A Lie”).

While Juluka had been experimenting with a fusion between western and South African musical styles for several years and Hotline had begun to do so in 1982, 1983 saw such musical hybridity becoming more of a trend than something unusual, especially with the very noticeable arrival of debut albums from eVoid and Via Afrika. In addition, The Dread Warriors and Splash provided a South African influenced reggae sound while The Boyoyo Boys, Steve Kekana, Sipho Mabuse, Letta Mbulu, The Soul Brothers and Stimela performed pop songs based in neo-traditional township forms. Dog Detachment and What Colours released songs influenced by the UK new wave scene and Sue Charlton, Lesley Rae Dowling and The Insisters released more mainstream pop songs. James Phillips, in his Bernoldus Niemand guise, continued the satirical tradition of the likes of Jeremy Taylor and David Kramer by using his voice as a vocal costume, critiquing society from the perspective of what Randy Newman referred to as an untrustworthy narrator.

1983 was also the year in which two members of Splash – Jose Charles and Rufus Radebe – were sentenced to effective four-year prison terms (later reduced to 17 months) for singing ‘revolutionary songs’ at a Wits Free People’s Concert. One of the songs was a cover of Steel Pulse’s “A Tribute to Martyrs”, which included references to Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela. They were charged with promoting violence and supporting the ANC, even though they argued in their defence that they were Rastafarians and as such were anti-violence.

Indeed, it was difficult to perform as a South African musician with left-leaning sympathies in South Africa. Pete Spong of the Dread Warriors noted that it was difficult for a band with a white and black members to travel together, especially when it came to arranging travel documents (including to neighbouring countries). Sipho Mabuse and Johnny Clegg both spoke about being stopped at road blocks and interrogated because of whites and blacks travelling together while touring, with Harari and Juluka respectively (Harari has a white woman manager who travelled with the group).

All the artist here have their stories about how difficult it was to be heard at the time. Fortunately we can give them a listen now.

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Capital 604 – 1983

It was fairly slim pickings for South African music on Capital countdowns in 1983 but the year did produce some South African classics. It was the year when different forms of cutting edge music styles developed, alongside a hybrid of music, fashion and language, to create a new identity of openness and togetherness rather than apartheid separation and repression. As Rene Veldsman of Via Afrika described , “even though we had the apartheid laws and that sort of thing, we found freedom in music, and I think lots of groups felt that way, and that’s why we got some great music out in the ’80s. It was kind of like a club, a secret place to go where we could be free.”

Juluka had been around for a while, charting on Capital each year of the 80s so far, and they continued to produce excellent songs out of a mix of neo-traditional Zulu, Celtic folk and rock music, what Johnny Clegg described as “a fascinating adventure in trying to construct a meeting point between different forms of musical expression, rhythm, melody (and) tone.” Clegg also sustained his exploration of Zulu culture with Sipho Mchunu in several other ways, including language, dance and dress. Meanwhile eVoid had started out in Brakpan in the late 70s as Zennith, before becoming Void but by 1982 they were transformed into eVoid: fadgets adorned in a fusion of fashion styles and playing a vibrant form of what eVoid called ‘ethnotronics’, a combination of new wave, rock and mbaqanga grooves. They also developed their own style of new romantic fashion which incorporated Ndebele beadwork and other Southern African influences. At the same time Via Afrika were also expressing themselves through music and fashion. Rene Veldsman described the group as “an explosion of talented people getting together and expressing themselves”. Via Afrika’s ‘curio-pop’ ( a term coined by band member Lucas Crouse) was a combination of pan-African and western music styles, all done with the intention of partying and dancing against the system – of racism, homophobia and separation.

Veteran Billy Forrest and former Pop Shop presenter Karl Kikillus had fringe hits on the countdown, and the novelty act the Soft Shoes who had won the tv “Follow That Star” talent competition entered the charts on the back of that exposure. But 1983 can be remembered as the year in which a fresh fusion of African-western musical styles combined with broader elements of cultural bricolage entered the mainstream of South African music.

Of the most successful songs of 1983, eVoid reached number 1 with “Shadows”, and number 4 with “Taximan”, the Soft Shoes also reached number 1 with “Elvis Astaire”, Juluka spent two weeks at number 7 with “December African rain” but only reached number 17 with “Umbaqanga music” and Via Afrika’s “Hey boy” surprisingly only reached number 11, where it spent two weeks.

*Unfortunately we were not able to track down the original vinyl release of Billy Forrest’s “I loved ’em everyone” in time to include on this mixtape and we have had to rely on a later version.

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