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 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.”

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.”