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South Africa Reviewing Its Decision to Screen 'Freedom'

February 17, 1988|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The South African government plans to take a further look at the anti-apartheid film "Cry Freedom" before deciding whether it can be shown in this country.

Although government censors cleared the film without restrictions several months ago, that decision is being reviewed by officials of the ruling National Party.

Stoffel Botha, the minister of home affairs, said he planned to view the film soon to determine whether he would ask the Publications Appeals Board to reconsider the initial approval his department gave the movie.

Other government departments, among them the Justice Ministry and the police, are trying to determine whether the film violates South Africa's security laws or whether its screening should be prohibited under the 20-month-old state of emergency. "Cry Freedom" is about the late black activist Steve Biko.

The film, directed by Richard Attenborough, is scheduled to open at 30 cinemas around the country early in April, after a major advertising campaign that the American distributors have said will challenge the consciences of white South Africans. Peter Dignan, managing director of UIP-Warner, local distributor of the film, said he expected the movie will be shown as planned despite the further government reviews.

"We believe it was a very enlightened decision by the (lower-level) Publications Control Board to permit its screening," Dignan said in Johannesburg. "We at UIP are proud to be involved with the film and are confident of its success."

But the government appears to be taking an even tougher approach toward its critics on the left than in November when "Cry Freedom" was approved.

Using the government's vast powers under the state of emergency, Botha has moved to suspend one newspaper from publishing and warned five other papers and magazines that similar actions might be taken against them. He has ordered an investigation into the making of a CBS documentary, "Children of Apartheid," and that could lead to the expulsion of CBS personnel from the country.

And in Parliament last week, he attacked several major English-language opposition newspapers for what he called a campaign of distortion.

"I can't say what my colleagues will do about this film," Botha said, "but I will view it and decide whether to refer it to the Publications Appeals Board. . . .

"However, the Publications Act deals only with a particular field, and it has limited application in the field of subversive materials. There are other acts of Parliament, primarily the Internal Security Act, as well as the emergency regulations, and they cover completely different fields."

Klaus von Lieres, attorney general for the Witwatersrand region, recently warned newspapers in Johannesburg and Pretoria that they could be prosecuted for publishing advertisements for the movie that quoted Donald Woods, a white newspaper editor whose friendship for Biko turned him into a passionate opponent of apartheid.

Woods, who lives in exile in London and who helped write the screenplay, is a "banned" person under the Internal Security Act and may not be quoted inside South Africa without government permission.

Von Lieres said provisions of the Internal Security Act applied to the movie, although it had been approved for showing by the Publications Control Board that first viewed it here.

Dignan said, however, that the government had not contacted him about the advertisements nor was he aware of any form of complaint about the proposed screening.

Some of Biko's writings also are banned in South Africa, raising further legal questions since the screenplay drew upon them. Biko, founder of the black consciousness movement, died in police custody in 1977, apparently after a severe beating.

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