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In South Africa, a Journalist Taps a Yearning to Live in Freedom : BOOK MARK: For his defiance of South African laws severely restricting what the press could print about apartheid, the author ultimately lost his job as editor of the Cape Times. In "The Cape of Storms," he outlines one act of defiance in 1985. An excerpt.

November 25, 1990|Anthony Hazlitt Heard | Anthony Hazlitt Heard, author of "The Cape of Storms," is now a free-lance columnist living in Cape Town

"Attention editors and publishers. CAPE TOWN, Nov. 4 (UPI). The opposition Cape Times newspaper Monday defied security laws and courted prosecution by quoting Oliver Tambo, leader of the outlawed African National Congress, in a full-page interview.

"The Cape Times editor, Anthony Heard, who conducted the interview in London, declined to say whether he had official permission to quote Tambo.

" 'You will have to draw your own conclusions about that,' he said. Tambo, who leads the ANC guerrilla movement's 25-year-old armed struggle against white rule in South Africa, is 'banned' in terms of internal security laws and may not be quoted in the country without official permission.

"Local newspapers last month castigated President Pieter Botha for quoting Tambo during campaign speeches leading up to by-elections in which the government faced a strong right-wing challenge. Botha repeatedly has blamed the ANC for a 14-month-old black uprising in which at least 934 people have died. . . ."

That report nearly knocked my daughter Vicki off her chair when it arrived on the wires at Global TV in Barber Greene Road, Toronto. There was interest elsewhere, too.

First, there was what can best be called an audible official silence. This ensued no doubt while ministers and officials scurried about trying to find out who on earth could have given the Cape Times permission to run a full-page interview with the chief "terrorist" leader.

The phone started ringing at my home at 7 a.m. It was Reuters, checking on a story that we had broken the law and quoted Tambo. Then the editor of the South African Press Assn., Edwin Linington, phoned from Johannesburg to ask for a transcript. The phone rang solidly for two weeks. . . .

(ANC leader Nelson) Mandela had just had a prostate operation in Gardens nursing home. His wife, Winnie, told me later that as he awoke he made a wild grab for the paper when he heard nurses saying: "Oliver Tambo's all over the Cape Times." I like to think he concluded that the surgeon's knife had slipped and he had been transported to another plane.

About 10 miles away, over at Robben Island, where hundreds of political prisoners were still held, the Cape Times did not turn up as usual. A prisoner who was there told me later that this was a sure sign that there was something "hot" in the paper. Eventually it did arrive, and was only available for a short time--while prisoners scrambled to write down as much of the interview as possible before it was whisked away. At Paarl's Victor Verster prison detainees, I heard later firsthand, were greatly encouraged when they heard of the interview.

The page was torn out, copied, pasted on walls, mailed. Wags wrote "Let Tambo Be Heard" on walls in Cape Town.

The official silence was short-lived. The rumble of authority was heard the next day (which happened to be Guy Fawkes Day, the traditional day when fireworks were let off). Minister of Law and Order Louise le Grange was quoted in the Burger as saying no permission had been given, adding: "I can confirm that the police have opened a docket with a view to the possible prosecution of the editor of the Cape Times."

Up to that point, when approached by the media, I had declined to say anything. Let the government find out everything itself.

The same day, Tuesday, a lieutenant called at my office to advise that charges were being investigated in terms of Section 56 (1) (p) of the Internal Security Act--quoting a banned or listed person. He had a police docket. A routine form regarding a suspected crime had to be signed. After checking with our company lawyer, Tim McIntosh, I declined to make a statement. Seconds later, Sir Robin Day of the BBC telephoned from London for an interview on the "World at One" program, and he could almost hear the receding police footsteps as I told him of their visit.

Later in the week, there was a visit from security police who took away the tape. No fewer than four big men were sent to take away one small cassette.

The world media made much of the story. Our London office reported "massive coverage." The story went everywhere from Bolivia to Iceland. The Western Morning News in Plymouth, England, wrongly thinking I was a local because my mother lived there, declared with a Churchillian ring: "Cornish editor defies Botha." The International Herald Tribune headline said: "Paper prints interview with rebel." The editorial page of the British Guardian carried extracts from the interview, as arranged, as did the New York Times and other newspapers. Tambo's peace call got world publicity.

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