Alert! Wits academic and literary lightning rod Michael Titlestad has unearthed and brought to our attention a new book about censorship during apartheid, The Literature Police by Peter D McDonald, published by Oxford University Press.
Did you know that JM Coetzee once applied to become a censor? Now that is a humorous, heart-gladdening piece of literary trivia. (He didn’t get the job.)
McDonald’s work, of course, goes beyond the trivial, bringing to light “a wealth of new evidence – from the once secret archives of the censorship bureaucracy [and] the records of resistance publishers and writers’ groups both in the country and abroad”, according to the blurb. The result: “strangely tangled stories of censorship and literature [that uncover] an extraordinarily complex web of cultural connections linking Europe and Africa, East and West”.
Sounds quite fascinating. Titlestad certainly was hooked:
Remember Scope magazine, complete with nipple-obscuring stars? Do you remember Glenda Kemp and her three-metre-long python, Oupa, both of whom starred in the 1976 film, Snake Dancer? It was, you may remember, cut: all nude scenes were excised. It flopped when word got out.
Do you remember the frisson of leafing through a banned André Brink novel? Did you ever handle a copy of Sechaba, the in-house ANC magazine, perhaps one wrapped in brown paper?
Our memory of the practices and architecture of apartheid censorship risks becoming anecdotal. Most of us recall the oppressive sense of constant surveillance, the knowledge that everything we read and watched had been deemed suitable for us. But it is another matter to flesh out this elaborate, sinister and occasionally ludicrous story of that control.
- The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and Its Cultural Consequences by Peter D McDonald
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Photo courtesy the New Chaucer Society