During the course of 2015 I recommissioned my 21st birthday present from my father – a Micro Seiki MB-14ST that I brought over to the UK from my mom’s place in South Africa. I’ve also been slowly bringing over my collection of vinyl albums, meticulously selected and acquired, and lovingly cared for between the early-70’s and the late-80’s. They’ve also been stashed away at my mom’s place, protected from the elements in plastic sleeves and stored in bespoke cases holding about 50 albums apiece. Over the course of the past few months I’ve been playing some of the gems in my collection, and it’s been very rewarding to reconnect with my past. Both the good and the “interesting”.
On one of our trips to Europe in the late-80’s my future wife and I made our regular pilgrimage to the music stores, including WOM (World of Music) in Germany. It was here (in which city, I don’t recall) that I bought the LP "Viva Umkhonto!" a compilation of punk and hardcore music that featured previously unreleased material by European and US bands. The record was released in April 1987 as a collaborative effort by two independent labels, namely Mordam Records (USA) and De Konkurrent (Holland), both of whom were strong backers of the struggle against Apartheid. According to a statement on the back of the sleeve, “All money raised by this record goes to Umkhonto We Sizwe”. So this was a benefit album for the military wing of the ANC (African National Congress).
For context, allow me to turn to Wikipedia:
“Umkhonto We Sizwe (abbreviated as MK, Zulu for "Spear of the Nation") was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre. Its founding represented the conviction in the face of the massacre that the ANC could no longer limit itself to nonviolent protest; its mission was to fight against the South African government. After warning the South African government in June 1961 of its intent to resist further acts of terror if the government did not take steps toward constitutional reform and increase political rights, MK launched its first attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and the United States, and banned”.
The album itself was definitely banned in South Africa and so possessing it was illegal. I took it into the country through Jan Smuts Airport (subsequently known as “Johannesburg International” and now, “O.R. Tambo International”) on my return from my trip to Europe and kept it safely tucked away in the belly of the beast in South Africa's capital city, Pretoria.
In June 1986, on the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising, the Nationalist regime declared State of Emergency. It forbade any action that could undermine the Apartheid state, nationwide. Also forbidden were any kind of “subversive statements”, defined as statements that promoted unlawful strikes, boycotts or civil disobedience, attacked military conscription, promoted disinvestment or sanctions, or that “aggravated feelings of racial hostility”. The penalty for engaging in these actions was a maximum of ten years imprisonment. Ouch - I definitely did not want to be caught with this album!
Of the people detained under these draconian regulations (circa-8,000 in the first couple of months) no names were published with the exception of those released at the discretion of the South African Police. Throughout the State of Emergency, newspapers had to engage in self-censorship, at the risk of being closed down by the government, and many used to print disclaimers alongside their articles that read” “This report has been restricted to comply with the Emergency Regulations”.
Some newspapers and magazines were not able to appear, and no news came out of the black townships, except through the state’s Bureau of Information. At the time I stuck stickers on the front of my television screen and computer monitor that read “SABC News is Biased” just to remind myself to be vigilant about government disinformation.
The music on the compilation album is okay, but it’s the packaging and presentation that I really enjoyed as a snapshot of the times, and as an interesting piece of social history. Along with the record were included a poster and a booklet filled with newspaper clippings and ANC propaganda about the armed struggle against Apartheid.
It also highlights companies that were breaking economic sanctions by continuing to do business with South Africa. The “Throw Well – Throw Shell” slogan is parody of oil the giant’s official marketing tag-line at the time, namely “Go Well – Go Shell”. I have uploaded a scan of this booklet to my DropBox.
I’m not going to comment on the accuracy or veracity of the information in the booklet, but in those turbulent times – under a state of emergency, with broad media censorship and where owning certain music could earn you a jail sentence – it was thrilling to see what people abroad were thinking and to read material that was not towing the official National Party line.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s fascinating to see how right Matt Johnson was back in 1989 (The The – “Mind Bomb”). Although he wasn’t talking about South Africa, per se, when he sang that we were the “beaten generation, reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation”, he pretty much hit the nail on the head. Prejudice and misinformation were weapons in the arsenal on both sides of the struggle in South Africa. I was one of the few pale South Africans to have the privilege of being exposed to both sides of that deformed coin.
If you'd like to take a listen to "Viva Umkhonto!" I've found a ripped copy of the LP available for download here.
Cheers, MAlfaRK ©