January 22, 2018

Opinion: Mandela’s Kitchen

Nelson MandelaA long way from when the famous Nelson Mandela walked out of jail to lead his people to democracy, South Africa today faces a new challenge in the form of anti-press legislation. One bill named the Protection of Information Bill gives the government power to classify information in the national interest, and a media appeals tribunal to regulate both printed and electronic press and is reminiscent of the censorship used by apartheid regime in the 70's.

This was not Mr. Mandela's vision of a South Africa synonymous with freedom and openness on all levels.

To remember a story about a reporter for the South Africa's Sunday Times, who went to Mandela's presidential residence late on afternoon for an interview only to find all doors and windows open and without being stopped, wandering into the kitchen. There he found Mr. Mandela preparing himself a cup of tea and a sandwich. Pleased to find company, the president invited the journalist to share a meal. The mood in the country at the time was this new sense of openness, self-reflection and honesty.

Leaders since Mr. Mandela, such as Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have been resistant to criticism and truth-telling and whose government, The African National Congress has proposed the new censorship measures. The press has become inhabited by lies, distortions, pretenses, subterfuges and inadequacies of all kinds.

Censorship has involved much more than removal of books from the shelves (mine being the first book in Afrikaans to be banned under apartheid). Once a book is prohibited, it then entered the Government Gazette and the notorious Jacobesen's Index- a record of banned literature of more than 20,000 titles. Once in the index, a book draws the attention to the brutal Security Police for endangering the "security of the state".

Attention from the Special Branch means the author could be interrogated, have his books, manuscripts and typewriters confiscated, (and if black) risk immediate arrest, detainment and disappearance.

Once, I was removed from a plane bound to London for the book's publication, and was ordered to open my suitcase for inspection. A government that owes it's existence to the invisible freedom of it's people can betray that faith through such arrogance.

Andre Brink author of "A Dry White Season" and "A Fork in the Road"