Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Journalism and Creative Writing - Faculty of Creative Arts


This thesis considers the role of the mainstream South African print media in perpetuating discrimination during the years of legalised racial discrimination - commonly known as apartheid - from when the Herenigde Nationale Party took power in May 1948 with an unprecedented 28-seat swing under the leadership of 74-year-old Dr Daniel F. Malan until it was replaced by the African National Congress, black-dominated unity government in April, 1994. Against an historical background, it focuses on the agenda and efforts of the mainstream metropolitan print media during the apartheid era, the build-up to the first non-racial elections, and the media's role in the immediate post-apartheid era. Race and class-based inequalities have always been a feature of South African life since settlement when the Dutch arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. The era of racial segregation can broadly be categorised as starting from 1910 to 1948, the Immigrant Regulation Act of 1913 that prevented the free movement of Indians across the provincial borders of Natal, which also placed restrictions on Indians owning land outside Natal province. Black land ownership was subjected to similar regulations with the Scheduled Areas of the Native Lands Act of 1913 and later the Native (Urban Areas) Act. But it was from 1948 that the era of apartheid started under the National Party leader Dr Malan, known as the father of apartheid, a racially discriminatory and evil practice based entirely on racial superiority and aimed at keeping the minority white tribe of Africa in control over the indigenous people. This 'separate development' policy was already entrenched in South African society by the time the National Party took control after the 1948 elections, but Malan legislated oppression by introducing various Acts of Parliament and in 1953 disenfranchised the 'Coloured' people by removing them from the voters' role. Instead of opposing this blatant racism and discrimination that lasted nearly half a century, the South African mainstream print media ' both the English and Afrikaans language press ' embraced the new direction in the early years with an enthusiasm that reflected poorly on the role of the press. During the early reign of the National Party, from 1949 to the mid-50s, the English-language newspapers were weak and fearful, lacked integrity and honesty, and failed in their duty as public watchdog. While the Afrikaans-language newspapers were developing to support government policies, the English press shared similar views. Both the English and Afrikaans press failed in their duties as the Fourth Estate in keeping a watchful eye on government. They never opposed the status quo and offered little or no support for a system of equality for all the peoples of South Africa. Although, in many ways the press was severely restricted in performing its proper role, ultimately it was a white controlled press which profited from apartheid. This thesis argues that despite its efforts, fundamental political change was never the agenda of the press, nor was equality of the various races. Definitely not the Afrikaans press and certainly not the English press despite the role that it seeks to claim in the post-apartheid era as a de facto opposition and a constant nagging thorn in the side of government. At times the English press wore the mantle of the opposition press and chided the government on various excesses but at the same time remained a conservative institution that practised much the same discriminatory policies of apartheid. Now, as South Africa continues along a new path of democracy, it is not a question of whether there is need for a reappraisal of the media in the post-apartheid era, but what shape or form it should take. This thesis aims to redirect the functions and role of the national print media and suggests that while the owners and the gatekeepers remain the same, on their past record, there is a justifiable cause for concern in a country struggling to come to terms with democracy and concludes that fundamental change is needed. By way of conclusion, I attempt to show that the South African print media, despite being hindered by a variety of laws to suppress criticism of the government, was at best hypocritical, at worst inherently racist and secular, tacitly supportive of the apartheid regime during the rule of the Nationalists and is now in need of reorganisation and fundamental structural change to meet the future challenges in a redeveloping nation. It is not a case of whether that change is effected but how it will be done that is at issue. How that change will be effected depends both on a willingness for change on the part of the major publishers, full integration and a more balanced racially-representative staff, as well as a commitment to open government on the part of the ruling establishment. With the demise of the National Party government and the introduction of the first non-racial parliament, it is my contention that it is now timely to forge a new media order, incorporating the best of what is good in the rest of the world and shedding that which is cumbersome while at the same time being sensitive to the development of an emerging democracy. This does not mean that the new media order should be of a restrictive nature, nor is it a call for the media to be less vigorous in its role of keeping Government honest. The press must be free to criticise, investigate and chide the government. However, in the early years of nation building the role of the press should in some ways be more supportive rather than fiercely antagonistic, defiantly critical or adversarial. In short, the new media order should work towards reconciling the need for openness and the right to speak one's mind with the necessity for healing the wounds created by racism. In the words of African National Congress stalwart Albie Sachs (1990): We must remember that the objective is to open doors that are at present closed, not to create more blockages to the free circulation of ideas and information. We would have gained little if we were to replace the present media controls with new ones that simply switch the propaganda and biases around; if one realm of banality takes over from another. Truth has always favoured the democratic cause, and our people are tired of forever being protected in the name of what others think is good for them.1 The press in South Africa does not exist in a vacuum. Large sections of the South African print media grew fat on the machinery of apartheid. Racism was rife in many newsrooms and evidence given to both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Racism in the Media inquiry amply illustrates this. At the very least there is now a moral obligation on the part of the media to participate constructively in the transformation just as there is an obligation on all sectors of South African industries and trades to adopt Black Economic Empowerment objectives.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.