IT IS exactly 37 years to the day that the government, in an attempt to crush an increasingly belligerent black resistance, banned 19 black consciousness organisations and publications, including The World and Weekend World newspapers and threw scores of its opponents in jail.

Percy Qoboza, editor of the two newspapers and some of his top lieutenants, including Aggrey Klaaste, were detained for months. Some, like Joe Thloloe, were already in detention at the time.

Donald Woods, editor of the Daily Dispatch, was banned for five years; so was Beyers Naude, founder of the Christian Institute, which was also proscribed.

It is hard to imagine now, with a constitution which prohibits such arbitrary actions, the extent of the fear and foreboding on Black Wednesday. In one fell swoop the black community were without a single organisation, leader, or outlet to articulate their grievances. It was as if a dark shroud had engulfed the world. Gloom was everywhere. The net spread wider than anything seen before.

To view Black Wednesday as only an attack only on the media is perhaps to narrow the remit of the violation. It was that, and much more. It was primarily to cripple black resistance to apartheid.

The National Party was ere obviously no friends of the media. They had passed a panoply of laws which not only restricted media freedom, but would jail an editor for making fairly innocuous editorial decisions. One editor likened his job to walking a tightrope with blindfolds on. Lawyers were always on standby to help editors navigate the minefield of press laws.

But Black Wednesday also brings to mind the debates taking place in newsrooms across the country at the time. Many black reporters saw themselves as part of an oppressed community under attack from the government. As journalists they too were not immune to from the slings and arrows of apartheid.

They therefore could not but identify with the community and articulate its aspirations.

Such a view was obviously in conflict with the prevailing convention of media objectivity. The feeling among black journalists was that one could not be objective or neutral about apartheid. But some in the mainstream media felt that such a position only added to the vulnerability of the press. It gave more ammunition to a government always eager to act against it.

To view Black Wednesday as only an attack only on the media is perhaps to narrow the remit of the violation. It was that, and much more. It was primarily to cripple black resistance to apartheid.

The Union of Black Journalists (UBJ), which had closely aligned itself with the wider struggles, for liberation was one of the organisations banned in 1977. That, and the detention of many journalists and editors, added to the passion of the debate.

But the ethical debates were a subplot of the greater struggle. The government had over the years acted against its opponents, but each time they had got up and carried on. Black Wednesday was therefore meant to sort them out once and for all.

The lull that followed the crackdown on the ANC and PAC after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 allowed the government the space to implement its policy of independent black homelands. The Black Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 made deemed all black people to be citizens of homelands and effectively stripped them of their South African citizenship.

The emergence of the black consciousness movement upset the apartheid applecart. The SA Students’ Organisation (Saso) and the Black People’s Convention (BPC) adopted a position of no compromise with apartheid and its lackeys. Homeland leaders became pariahs.

Beginning in 1974, a series of events took place within three years that were to culminate in the events of October 19 1977. The overthrow of dictator Marcello Caetano in a leftist coup in Portugal in 1974 allowed its African colonies of Mozambique and Angola to gain their independence. The removal of such a crucial buffer was a psychological blow to apartheid South Africa, which. It conducted proxy wars in both countries to try and stop the tide of history.

Leaders of Saso and BPC were rounded up after pro-Frelimo rallies in September the same year. It  was is at their trial two years later that Steve Biko, a defence witness, gave gives his seminal testimony on black consciousness — his last public appearance.

And, of course, the Soweto riots in June 1976 are another watershed that sees saw thousands of young people ending up either in jail or exile.

But it was Biko’s death in detention in September 1977, a month before the crackdown, that which probably caused the regime to over-react. It was taken aback by the extent of international outrage at Biko’s death, compounded by its own callous response to such a vile act.

Anniversaries are like wounds that don’t heal. Roiling it a little or ripping off the scab from time to time to expose raw flesh tends to stir up the anger. “Look , what they did to us!” It’s often a potent weapon for those who either have something to hide or can’t ride on their own record.

Can Black Wednesday retain its potency if the government conducts its own campaign against the media, for instance? Or can you rail against the cruelty of a Sharpeville massacre when you have your own Marikana?

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