Journalism during South Africa's apartheid regime

Vic Alhadeff

Abstract


Vic Alhadeff was chief sub-editor of The Cape Times, Cape Town’s daily newspaper, during the apartheid era. It was a staunchly anti-apartheid newspaper, and the government had enacted a draconian system of laws to govern and restrict what media could say. The effect was that anti-apartheid activists such as Mandela were not 'merely’ imprisoned, they were also banned, as was the African National Congress. Under the law, it was illegal to quote a banned person or organisation. This meant if there was to be an anti-apartheid rally in the city – and we reported it – it could be construed as promoting the aims of a banned organisation. As chief sub-editor, I had to navigate this minefield. In addition, most English-language newspapers were anti-apartheid and had a resident police spy on staff (one of our senior journalists); on a number of occasions I would receive a call from the Magistrate’s Office after the newspaper had gone to print at midnight, putting an injunction on a story. We would have to call back the trucks and dump the 100,000 copies of the newspaper and reprint. The challenge was to inform readers as what was happening and to speak out against apartheid – without breaking the law.
South Africa had its own Watergate equivalent. The apartheid government understood that English speakers generally were anti-apartheid, so it siphoned 64 million rands from the Defence budget and set up the Information Department. The aim was to purchase media outlets overseas which would be pro-apartheid, and it set up an English-language newspaper in South Africa, to be pro-apartheid. It was called The Citizen – and I was offered a job as deputy editor at double my salary, plus an Audi. (I declined the offer, for the record). Two journalists uncovered the scandal, and brought down the Prime Minister.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v10i2.5924

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