A high court today upheld a government move to delay reappearance of the country's main black newspaper. The Post, just as the daily was about to resume publication after a two-month strike by black journalists.
In a related development, two journalists who led the strike were issued with banning orders by the security police. The orders prevent the reporters from working as ournalists and from being members of any organization.
Both actions were likely to be seen by the black community as attempts to frustrate criticism of the government's racial policies in black-oriented media. The Post has been the main forum for black views since its predecesor, the World, was banned by the government in October 1977. Although it is not black-owned, its staff is mainly black.
In addition, the government's attempt to stall reappearance of The Post on what was seen as a minor legal point was interpreted by some observers as interference with freedomof the press.
"When the government uses this legal provision to prevent publication of a newspaper which is reputable, then you ask why," one legal expert commented. "You come to the conclusion that it is to cast a stone into the path of an opposition newspaper."
The Afrikaans-language press, which usually supports government actions, also criticized the action. "By taking a fastidious stand on a minor ruling, the government has put itself in a poor light overseas as an authority which tampers with freedom of speech and the press to thwart its opposition," commented Beeld.
On Dec. 22, The Post, the Sunday Post and the Sowetan, all owned by the Argus Printing and Publishing Co., were notified by the government that since they had not published for a period longer than month because of the black journalists' strike, their registrations and right to publish had lapsed.
All three were set to resume publication this week following settlement of the strike Dec. 23.
Lawyers for Argus applied for an injunction against the government's action, arguing that the papers had complied with relevant provisions of the Internal Security Act by publishing one limited edition in November and another in December despite the strike and that these were sent to libraries and distributed on the street.
However, Rand Supreme Court Judge G.A. Coetzee today ruled that this limited effort was not enough to constitute publication as required by the act and that the papers will have to reapply for registration. All these did so today following the ruling. But the process could take weeks, at least three, according to one government official.
One of the journalists banned today is Zwelakhe Sisulu, news editor of The Sunday Post. He is also president of the Media Workers Association of South Africa, a black consciousness-oriented union that spearheaded the strike. The other is Murimuthu Subramoney, vice president of the Durban branch of the union.
Sisulu is also the son of Walter Sisulu, a former leader in the African National Congress who is serving a life sentence for sabortage on the political prison of Robben Island. Sisulu's mother, Nontsikelelo, has been banned since 1964.