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!

Censorship – No Sex on the SABC

It is common practice throughout the world for radio stations to ban songs about sex from airplay. This is especially the case with public broadcasters like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) who famously banned (from airplay) songs such as Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s “Je t’aime” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”. But usually such radio censorship relates to songs which are overtly sexual, and the broadcasters are concerned that the songs are inappropriate for younger people in the audience. The SABC took their concerns about sexual lyrics (and sounds) to an extreme level, often banning songs from airplay with just cursory reference to something sexual or even to one night stands or sex workers. There was a strong Calvinist moral directive to SABC sexual censorship, according to which, the less said about sex, the better. This mixtape includes a broad spectrum of examples of music banned for taking on the topic of sex.

On one extreme the SABC banned a creepy song like Gary Glitter’s “Happy birthday”, a song written to a previously underage girl who has now come of age and the singer can’t wait to have sex with her. On the other extreme there were fairly innocuous songs with vague or cryptic reference to sex, such as Flash Harry’s “Handlebars” with lyrics like “you gotta grab your partner by the handlebars” and at the end of the song “the boys at work will laugh at you when you say, she looked so pretty what a shame she was gay.”

Certainly, reference to same-sex relationships was a sure way to get a song banned on SABC. Examples include Edi Niederlander’s “Mabel” in which the female singer declares her attraction to a “good looking woman” and Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” in which the singer describes, “see the nice boys dancing in pairs, golden earring, golden tan, blow wave in their hair.”

Rod Stewart’s “A Night Like This” is a coming of age sex of a different sort to Gary Glitter’s song. It is about a sixteen year old boy who is going to have sex for the first time. It is not particularly explicit. Lulu’s cover of the Beatles’ “Day Tripper” was frowned upon simply because it referred to a man who was only into non-committal one night stands.

In general, songs which viewed sex as a good thing were banned on SABC. For example Brook Benton’s “Makin’ Love Is Good For You”, “Sexuality” by Culture Club, “Thrill Of The Grill” by Kim Carnes, Lita Ford’s “Hungry” in which the singer declares “I got an appetite for your love tonight, I wanna taste your sweet thing,” and Blue Mink’s “Daughter Of Someone” in which the male and female singers combine to sing “Let’s go to bed, I’m waiting for you to come on in”.

Songs which described sexual encounters were also avoided by the SABC. For example Paul Simon’s “Duncan” in which the singer’s “long years of innocence ended” and Motley Crue’s “Rattlesnake Shake” in which the woman in the song does the rattlesnake shake and makes the singer’s body ache.

The SABC censors also frowned upon songs in which singers declared their zest for sexual activity. For example Pink Floyd’s “Young Lust” in which the protagonist declares “I need a dirty woman, ooh I need a dirty girl”, Prince & the Revolution’s “Temptation” in which the singer exclaims, “Working my body with a hot flash of animal lust, temptation, all my fingers in a pool of splashing musk”, Linda Clifford’s cover of Rod Stewart “Tonight’s The Night” in which she pronounces, “The secret is about to unfold, upstairs before the night’s goes old,” and the Bernoldus Niemand cover of the Radio Rats song “Welcome To My Car” in which the protagonist welcomes a woman to his car, the back seat of which is used for sex. He sings “I find the back seat so bizarre, so come on stream up my widows please, welcome to my car.”

The SABC censors also took umbrage to songs which referred to sex workers and paying for sex. For example, “Love For Sale” by Julie London, the Night Ranger’s “This Kid Needs To Rock” and “Room Of Horror” by Sipho Mabuse, despite the fact that the character in Mabuse’s song was warning of the dangers of prostitution.

Clearly, for the SABC censors, songs about sex were to be unseen and unheard. This mixtape provides the opportunity to lift the lid on some of the songs the SABC didn’t want South Africans to hear. Enjoy!

Rocking And Rolling The Boat: Political Censorship

Despite all its attempts to silence music about sex, drugs and religion, the Directorate of Publications was most famous for its political censorship. Clearly, the main reason for its existence was to support the apartheid regime, so it was no surprise that it acted incisively when music of a contentious political nature came before its scrutiny.

One of the most notorious cases was Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” which was originally submitted to the Directorate by a religious student group at the Pretoria Teaching College, who were alarmed at the popularity of the song (and accompanying album) with its rebellious lyrics, which they believed would cultivate “an environment for communism”. The Directorate agreed, but also observed that it had become a rallying song for school children protesting apartheid education. The single had already sold over 70 000 copies nationally, and had reached the top of the charts on SABC’s Springbok Radio and Radio 5, as well as on Capital Radio. Yet the Directorate banned it anyway and the Publications Appeal Board upheld the ban, which lasted until 1982. Other internationally well-known examples of banned songs included singles which championed anti-apartheid leaders, Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, and the Special AKA’s “(Free) Nelson Mandela”.

Further songs from international artists that were banned for opposing apartheid included: “(Ain’t Gonna Play) Sun City” – Artists United Against Apartheid, “Majority Rule” – Jimmy Cliff, “UDF” – Follow Fashion Monkeys, “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” – Eddy Grant, “Free Mandela In Azania” – Lovemore Majaivana & Jobs Combination, “Fire In Soweto” – Sonny Okosun, “Stop The War” – Prince Far I, “Apartheid” – Peter Tosh and “Sing Our Own Song” – UB40.

Several songs by South Africans which openly opposed apartheid were also banned. A cross-section of these have been included on this mixtape, including: “Beware Verwoerd” – Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, “Nongonqo” – Harry Belafonte and Letta Mbulu, “Johnny Vorster On The Couch” – Barry Gilder, “Ngeke, Ngeke, Ngeke” – Abdullah Ibrahim and others, “All For One” – Jabula, “Thabane” – Roger Lucey, Miriam Makeba’s version of Jeremy Taylor’s “A Piece Of Ground” and “Now Is The Time” – Mzwakhe Mbuli.

The Directorate also banned songs and albums which espoused liberation struggles in neighbouring countries. On this mixtape examples of this come in the form of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Zimbabwe”, Zimbabwe’s Jairos Jiri Sunrise Kwela Band whose “Take cover” promoted the cause of Zimbabwean guerrilla freedom fighters, including a guitar approximating the sounds of a machine gun, and the SWAPO Singers’ “The Wind Of Change”, a song which later became better known in the United Kingdom when Robert Wyatt released a collaborative version adding his own vocals.

The Directorate were also wary of songs which supported liberation struggles in general, lest the message be incorporated into the South African context. Thus it also banned songs such as Black Uhuru’s “Solidarity”, Discharge’s “Tomorrow Belongs To Us” and from the early 1960s, Pete Seeger’s pro USA civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome”.

In several instances entire albums were banned because of one or more songs on the albums. Of the above, these included Live… – Harry Belafonte, An Evening With – Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, Black Uhuru’s Anthem, Jimmy Cliff’s Give The People What They Want, Follow Fashion Monkeys – Follow Fashion Monkeys, Peter Gabriel’s 3rd solo album, Barry Gilder’s Fists Against The Sky, Liberation Freedom SongsAbdullah Ibrahim and others, In Amsterdam – Jabula, Roger Lucey’s The Road Is Much Longer, Miriam Makeba’s Pata Pata, Mzwakhe Mbuli’s Change Is Pain, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Survival, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Prince Far I’s Umkhanto We Sizwe, We Shall Overcome – Pete Seeger, One Namibia One Nation – SWAPO Singers, Equal Rights – Peter Tosh and UB40’s Rat In The Kitchen.

The most unusual of the instances of political music being banned was the case of Barry Gilder’s album, which wasn’t banned by name because when the police confiscated a bootleg copy of the cassette during a raid on the UCT SRC offices in June 1978, it was not marked in any way, other than the name of the company who made the cassette. The cassette was banned after a laborious process whereby a member of the South African Police Security Branch (Officer R.R Brand) transcribed the entire cassette and then listed the songs according to their first lines, such as “I’m a great politician”, “In the factories of Johannesburg” and “Fidel Castro’s in the mountains”. The Directorate of Publications concluded that “The incitement through the spoken word and catchy tunes, and the fact that such a cassette can be used for group meetings of activists and radicals, make it necessary to prohibit the possession of the cassette … In addition, many of the songs are radically undesirable.”

Blasphemy!

This mixtape focuses on songs banned by the apartheid government’s central censorship board because they were deemed blasphemous.

The apartheid government propagated a form of Calvinism so conservative and tainted that it justified apartheid, restricted nudity and sex to the procreative bedroom and exalted a bigoted and prudish god, whose sabbath was kept boringly sacred. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the central apartheid censors took a dim view on any song that undermined their narrow view of god, ridiculed Christians and, even worse, promoted Satan.

John Lennon’s “God” was banned simply because John Lennon stated that God is a concept and that he didn’t believe in the bible and Jesus.  Meanwhile Chris De Burgh’s song “Spanish Train” was viewed as blasphemous because in the song God and the devil play chess and poker over the souls of the dead, and the devil cheats and wins more souls, without God realising.

Both Peter Sarstedt’s “Take Off Your Clothes” and Glenda Kemp’s “Strip Tea” raised the ire of the censors because they brought into disrepute men of the cloth, especially in a sexual context. In the former, because the protagonist’s “daddy is the pope you know, and I just want to grope you know” while in the latter, Glenda Kemp’s vicar comes to visit for a pastoral cup of tea but ends up partaking in an unexpected “Strip Tea”.

Don McLean’s “American Pie” offended the censors because of 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.”

Two musicals based on the life of Jesus – Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell – were controversially received by some Christians far and wide. The South African censors were no exception. They objected to the way Mary Magdalene tried to seduce Jesus on both soundtracks: Yvonne Elliman’s sensual “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar and Sonia Manzano’s burlesque-style “Turn Back, O Man” from Godspell, with the provocative line “C’mere Jesus, I’ve got something to show ya!” The theme song, “Superstar” from the former show, sung by Murray Head and the Trinidad Singers, was viewed as blasphemous for calling Jesus a superstar, banned by way of being a song on the album but also as a single.

The censors thought that Des & Dawn’s humorous treatment of ‘Dese Bones Gonna Rose Again” was unacceptable, and that the Kalahari Surfers’ protest about the SADF Maseru cross-border raid, through adapting the words to the Christian “Lord’s Prayer”, was equally unacceptable. Similarly, “Prayer” by Spooky Tooth and Pierre Henry was deemed undesirable by the censors, because of its use of the same prayer in a progressive rock context.

The censors strongly objected to Christ The Album by Crass; believing the album title was blasphemous, as were lyrics to the song “I Know There Is Love” which was critical of the role of Christianity in propagating war: “You’ve … thrust in my hands your gun and your bible, you told me to kill for the lord up above.”

“Ishmael” by Abdullah Ibrahim was the only song banned by the Directorate of Publications for reasons of blasphemy according to a religion other than Christianity. In this instance, the Muslim Judicial Council objected to Abdullah Ibrahim putting words from the Koran to a musical backing, an act which they deemed blasphemous, and which was upheld by the state censors.

The censors also objected to the name of a group called Satan and banned their album Court In The Act because of songs like “Hunt You Down”, which they argued promoted the power of Satan. Likewise, Mercyful Faith’s “The Oath” and “Mark Of The Beast” by The Sinyx (off the Crass Records Bullshit Detector compilation) were regarded as anti-Christian by means of promoting Satan. Finally, Diamanda Gala’s “The Litanies Of Satan”, affronted the censors, who objected to what she looked like on the cover, what she sounded like on the record and the fact that she prayed to Satan. The song and album were promptly banned.

Bad Language

Amongst other forms of government-defined obscenity (such as sex and drugs), the South African state censors did not like bad language. They viewed it as ‘undesirable’ and hoped to wish it away with their censorial judgment. When an album or song was submitted to the censorship board, the censors would scrutinise the lyrics included with the album or alternatively, if lyrics were not included, one of the censors would transcribe them, often mishearing lyrics along the way.

Mild swear words were generally acceptable, unless they dominated the song, but if an especially naughty word appeared, even if uttered just once, the song or album in question was almost inevitably banned. The censors wanted to believe that they were acting on behalf of the general population when in fact it seemed they were acting upon their own uneasiness or offence. They seemed oblivious of the fact that the sort of language they were censoring was common lingo in the grounds and corridors of most high schools around the country, as well as in many workplaces and in the military. Soldiers did indeed swear like troopers.

This mixtape provides a cross-section of examples of the sorts of words the censors did not like. Interestingly, John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”, which includes the word “fucking”, was banned twice – once as performed by Lennon on the Plastic Ono Band album, and then again when covered by Marianne Faithfull on her Broken English album. Faithfull’s English was not so much broken as very expressive on the song “Why’d Ya do It”, which, along with her cover of “Working Class Hero” led to her album being banned.

Nina Hagen was a casualty of misheard lyrics by a Directorate of Publications censor, who thought she sang “Let’s go fuck” when in fact she sang “Let’s go Zack”. “Your Daughter Is One” by Robin Johnson & Trini Alvarado, from the Times Square soundtrack was one of the reasons that album was banned, because the censors took umbrage to phrases like “You fuckin’ Nazi”, “That shit eating smile of yours” and “You cold fart holy man”.

Oom Hansie was the only South African group to have a song banned because of swearing: “Kaapse Dans” was banned for including the words ‘kak’ and ‘fokol’. “Dirty Words” by the Cast of Let My People Come includes a series of verses, each of which provides a humorous take on a ‘dirty’ sexual word. Ian Dury and the Blockheads didn’t stand much chance with a song called “Fucking Ada”. The censor who wrote the report on the song even went to the trouble of counting how many times ‘fucking’ was uttered during the song: more than 60 times (in case you are interested).

Several punk songs and albums were banned because of swearing: songs by Crass, The Sceptics (on the Crass label Bullshit Detector compilation album), Discharge, Disorder and Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers fell foul of the censors, although the censors were more upset about the name of Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers than by the words of their songs, which they noted were mostly inaudible.

Explicit language was liberally sprinkled across several Blowfly albums, a few of which were banned. “To Fuck The Boss” is a good example of the sort of Blowfly song which raised the hackles of the South African censors.

Finally, Frank Zappa closes the mixtape with “Titties and Beer”, one of the songs which led to the banning of the Zappa in New York album. Certainly, within the narrow-minded and censorious context of the apartheid republic, the licentiousness of New York seemed a voluptuous time warp away.

As for swearing, well you could stumble across that almost anywhere regular South Africans hung out.

Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll!

In 1963 the South African apartheid government passed the Publications and Entertainments Act of 1963 which led to the establishment of South Africa’s first central government censorship board. Although its name and various regulations changed over the years, the censorship board went on to ban well over one hundred music albums and singles over the next three decades. One of the categories of censorship was obscenity, which included sex, drugs and bad language.

This mixtape focuses on examples of songs banned for the first two of these criteria: they promoted sex or they promoted drug use.

Several vaudeville-type songs were banned in the 1960s and early 1970s because they promoted sex. These included entire albums by Oscar Brand (Bawdy Western Songs), the Jock Strappe Ensemble (Why Was He Born So Beautiful And Other Traditional Rugby Songs), Glenda Kemp (Both Sides of Glenda Kemp) and Ivor Biggun (More Filth! Dirt Cheap …). For this mixtape Oscar Brand’s “Charlotte the Harlot”, The Jock Strappe Ensemble’s “The Mayor of Bayswater”, Ivor Biggun’s “Wanking Your Blues Away” (printed on record sleeves as “Winking Your Blues Away”) and Glenda Kemp’s “Strike Buster” have been chosen as good examples of the sorts of things which got the censors hot under the collar.

Other albums from the same era which were banned included Chuck Berry’s London Sessions, the original cast recordings of the musicals, Let My People Come and Hair from which “My Ding A Ling”, “Choir Practice” and “Sodomy” have been selected respectively.

During the late 1960s and into the 1970s a trend set in whereby recorded popular featured the sound of orgasm(s), mostly to titillate the listener but sometimes to provide additional sensual vocals to otherwise potentially monotonous long disco tracks. The apartheid censors regularly censored such music, including the following songs included on this mixtape: “Love To Love You Baby” by Donna Summer, “Slow Blow” by Hot R.S., “Je T’aime .. .. .. Moi Non Plus” by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, “Airport Love Theme” by Super Erotica and “Cruisin’ The Streets” by Boys Town Gang. Whereas it was typical for women to be making the sensual sounds in such songs, “Slow Blow” and “Cruisin’ The Streets” feature males making orgasmic sounds; the latter song was even more controversial for apartheid-era censors because the men in question were pleasuring each other.

Some songs were banned because they were deemed to promote sex in a particularly (for the censors) lewd fashion, such as Blowfly’s “The Girl Wants To Fuck”, Celi Bee and the Buzzy Bunch’s “Superman”, Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ “Dinah-Moe-Hum”, George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” and “Hlope Jive” by the Naledi Boys. The last of these was banned because of a spoken dialogue at the outset, supposedly between a brother and sister who discuss an unpleasant oral sexual exchange they have shared.

The censors also thought that Des & Dawn’s spoken word humorous piece about “The Pill” was too immoral for 1960s South Africa. And Blue Mink’s “Melting Pot” was far too scandalous in apartheid South Africa, suggesting that people of different races get together to produce “coffee-coloured people by the score”. On a bizarre note, Patti Smith’s “Pissing In A River” off the Times Square film soundtrack was banned for promoting sex because the censor transcribed “Come for me” as “Come fuck me”.

Several albums were banned because they featured images of marijuana on the front cover, including Culture’s International Herb and U-Roy’s Dread In Babylon. Songs which were banned for the same reason included “Legalize It” by Peter Tosh (including the album because of the cover) and “Show Me The Way To Get Stoned” by David Peel & the Lower East Side, whose entire Have A Marijuana album was banned.

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.”