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 – 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!

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.”