Any book that did not comply with apartheid’s strait-jacket propaganda, got the chop.
So too did books perceived to be encouraging or condoning the mixing of people across the colour line.
And when apartheid’s secret police made lightning raids on the homes of activists, one of the first things they did was rummage through the book shelves, confiscating any material they deemed “undesirable”.
The most bizarre example of this all was back in 1965, when the apartheid government banned Anna Sewell’s classic novel, Black Beauty – a fascinating tale of the life of a horse.
The censors – who hadn’t even read the book – deemed it was not suitable reading for South Africans because the book used the words “black” and “beauty” in the title, so they assumed it was some kind of blacks rights novel.
It might all sound rather grotesque and even hilarious right now but that’s how apartheid’s “thought police” operated at the time, to control and regulate how South Africans should think, read and behave.
Happily, the advent of democracy changed all that in 1994 and South Africans now live under a Constitution acclaimed for its protection of people’s basic rights and freedoms.
But are we safely out of the woods now?
Not entirely. We may have slayed the dragon of apartheid but a new evil and destructive monster has emerged on our doorstep in the form of rampant corruption and state capture.
This beast is so dangerous, it has succeeded in penetrating deeply into our structures of government and commerce, eating its way through the moral fibre of our society.
When brave investigative journalists have stood up to this monster and tried to expose its shenanigans through their writings, they’ve been hounded and harassed just like apartheid’s secret police did to our freedom fighters a few years ago.
We saw evidence of this when Jacques Pauw was threatened with legal action after the release of his best-seller The President’s Keepers and a group of protesters disrupted the launch of Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book, Gangster State: Unravelling Ace Magashule’s Web of Capture, in Johannesburg last week.
The noisy protesters danced and sang and ripped apart some copies of the book and threw the pages around.
Earlier, there were reports that the ANC Youth League in the Free State planned to burn copies of the book.
This is censorship through sheer thuggery in anyone’s language.
If elements in the ANC don’t agree with what’s contained in Myburgh’s book, they know the legal route to follow.
Unless, of course, they wish to follow in the footsteps of the repressive “gangster state” that robbed us of our precious freedom years ago by banning books that laid bare their lies and illegitimacy.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.