The government of South Africa keeps warning that its opponents are communists in Soviet hire. But it is the regime itself that is Sovietizing South Africa. Its restrictions on the media are among the most conspicuous and objectionable pieces of evidence of this trend.
American audiences could see the policy in action over the weekend by watching the television coverage in Mamelodi. A black township outside Pretoria, Mamelodi is not subject to the emergency-rule news curbs that the government imposed last October to keep the outside world from observing popular unrest and official repression. Nonetheless, pistol-wielding police halted television coverage of the funeral of some blacks who had died in an earlier protest. In response, people in the crowd stoned the police, and in the ensuing gunfire, a Dutch soundman was shot in the leg. "We cannot let anything bad about South Africa get out any more," an officer explained.
It is evidently not enough for the South Africans to attempt to censor the news by law and edict; they are doing it by harassment and outright intimidation as well. Pretoria's effort to fence itself off from Western inspection, however, can only isolate it further from Western understanding. By its restrictions, the apartheid government increasingly makes itself over in the Soviet image. Far from sparing itself the effects of bad publicity, it feeds apprehensions that behind a lowering veil of censorship it is practicing a policy too terrible to withstand the light of day. Already low, the country's credibility is bound to sink even lower if there is not an adequate supply of independent witnesses to verify what is going on.
What was going on at Mamelodi reflects an ugly pattern in South Africa. Peacefully, a funeral for victims of the country's basic injustice was being held. Arbitrarily, police attempted to cut off the formally permitted media coverage of it. A disturbance erupted. The government, to justify censorship, keeps insisting that the media provoke trouble, but here it was plain that the police were the provocateurs. It was thuggery.