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.”

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.