Letter from Hobeni, 30th October 2014

Inidan Ocean and thorn tree

Ah! But this land is beautiful!

This is a story of petty and vindictive spite.   It is the story of someone who is so frightened of people knowing the truth that he regards telling the truth as incitement to rebellion.

On 21st November 1975, Donald Woods wrote an article called “A Message for the Teenagers” as part of his series of syndicated columns that appeared in the “Daily Dispatch” and several other South African newspapers.   It was a message to first time voters.    The coloured population of Cape Province, that is people who were designated by the racial classification laws as neither black nor white, had been given voting rights, and these were enshrined in the constitution of the Union of South Africa.   The apartheid government, elected in 1948, decided to remove these voting rights.

The Appeal Court upheld the right of the coloured population to vote despite the attempts of the apartheid government to remove them.   Donald Woods then went on to tell the shameful story of chicanery and gerrymandering in the South African Parliament, by which the constitution was amended and the coloured population of Cape Province was disenfranchised.   Woods compounded his offence by pointing out the ridiculousness of racial classification, as many of those most enthusiastic for such divisions were not as racially pure as they liked to profess.

Woods ends his article by advising teenagers to reply to apartheid politicians’ jeering that no-one in South Africa has been deprived of the vote, that the coloured community of Cape Province have been so deprived.   He does not use the phrase, but he advises them to speak truth to power.

This article prompted N. G. Hawson (an English-speaking man or woman) to write on 25th November 1975 to the Department of Justice as follows:-

“I enclose an article by the Editor in last Friday’s Daily Dispatch.   I find the paper revolting in the ultra liberal black ideas which it continually puts forth.   For this reason I do not buy it very often, except on a Friday for the advertisements.   I feel that the article “Amessage [sic] for the teenagers” is nothing less than incitement to rebellion, and that something should be done about it.   I presume that you have to be careful with a man of this type, but it would be very acceptable to many East Londoners if you could clip his wings in some way.”

Two years later, the Minister of Justice, Jimmy Kruger, did just that.   Donald Woods was subjected to a banning order.

What Hawson objected to was young people being told the truth about what was happening in South Africa and, of course, being encouraged to challenge lying by authority figures.   Hawson was deeply authoritarian, deeply reactionary and deeply unpleasant.

In my view, we need more journalists across the world, like Donald Woods, speaking truth to power, and if they incense the N. G. Hawsons of this world, so much the better.


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