22 November 2011

A Black Wednesday for apartheid SA and a Black Tuesday for democratic SA

On Wednesday the 20th of October 1977, the apartheid government decided to arrest, detain and ban Black Consciousness Movement aligned activists and 18 organisations involved in anti-apartheid activism. Three newspaper publications were also shut down on this day, for similar reasons.

The move was an attempt to gag the media and muzzle all those exposing the government's dirty work and so the day was deemed Black Wednesday.

This drastic action was undertaken pursuant to provisions of section 10 of the apartheid government's Internal Security Act which allowed the government to arrest, detain and or ban whoever it felt had become a "threat" of some sort.

There are a number of reasons given which allegedly triggered the government to take such action. For the 18 Black Consciousness Movement aligned organizations and activists, the government was angered by their decision to oppose the independence of Bophuthatswana from South Africa.

These organizations held a convention to work out strategies to frustrate the pending "independence" of Bophuthatswana. One of the resolutions adopted at the conference was to write an open letter to Chief Lucas Mangope who was the incumbent president of the pending independent ‘Bantustan'.

The letter strongly expressed the organisations' opposition to the idea and their disgust by Chief Mangope's eagerness to assume this role. This independence was seen as balkanization of South Africa which could not be countenanced as it created unsavoury divisions among black people.

As for the shut down newspapers, the motive purportedly stemmed from their coverage of Steve Biko's death in police custody. Biko was a leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and a highly respected anti-apartheid activist.

Contents of the open letter written to Chief Mangope also received immense media coverage with a certain newspaper, the World, deciding to publish it raw. That angered the government, leading to the shut down of the three publications.

On the 22 of October 2011, thirty-four years since the Black Wednesday incident, the Protection of State Information Bill (also referred to as ‘the secrecy bill') was passed in the South African national assembly which was seen as a giant step backwards in the advancement of democratic principles.

Furthermore, the bill contradicts certain constitutional provisions which promote access to information. The bill was therefore widely opposed, hence its passing on the said date was equated to the Black Wednesday incident.

Hundreds of South Africans wore black (or black armbands) on this day and protested outside parliament to express their rejection of the bill.

Protests were also held countrywide where civil society organizations and concerned individuals took to the streets to picket against the secrecy bill.

For general opinion from civil society organizations and prominent South Africans about the secrecy bill, read here.