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Margie Orford

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Secrecy Bill is the Legislative Equivalent of Date Rape

So, I fly up to Jo’burg to take part in celebrations for Nobel-laureate Nadine Gordimer’s 88th birthday. The taxi-driver, who took me and the group of writers I was with, was pulled over and extorted in central Jo’burg. Having an enormous man with muscles rippling up the back of his shaved head climb into the front of your mini-bus and tells your driver to get out and hand over cash does that to one. The driver, a sensible and experienced man, did so at once. He peeled off notes three times before Muscle Head let us go. It made me feel dirty, knowing that it is so easy to be rolled over and ripped off.

But be that as it may, last Friday was the day the Mail & Guardian did the time warp. They blacked out of a story about arms, secrets and lies that they had been prevented from publishing. The reason? The journalists were threatened with arrest for publishing a story that was clearly, fairly and squarely in the public interest. The censored pages were an instant flashback to the 1980s when censorship by a vicious and paranoid state, aware that power was slipping from its bloodied hands, reached a feverish pitch.

The laws governing freedom of expression and the press were draconian then. They were designed to silence the public and to keep secret what officials were doing. That was all swept aside in the euphoria of the early nineties, and freedom of expression – the right to the truth, I suppose – was enshrined in the constitution. We all should have lived happily ever after but there was to be a twist in the ending of this tale.

It was called The Arms Deal. Despite a lot of complicated detail, the story is mind-numbingly simple in essence. Senior party and government fleeced a trusting and hopeful nation by ordering obsolete, unnecessary weapons at inflated prices. Kickbacks from arms manufacturers were brokered and money flowed into Swiss bank accounts. It has felt a bit crazy for a while. They know they did it. We know they did it. They know we know they did it. We know they know we know they did it…

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How I was detained and charged with treason as a student in 1985

I have written an article for the Guardian about the time I was arrested, detained and charged with treason for my involvement in a protest against PW Botha’s state of emergency in 1985:

On 20 July 1985, PW Botha, then-president of South Africa, declared a state of emergency in the areas around Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape. The police were given unlimited powers of arrest and detention without trial. It was the beginning of apartheid’s long and violent endgame.

One afternoon in October of the same year, a friend stops by. The state of emergency has been extended to the Western Cape, she says. I must come. There’s a protest march at the University of Cape Town. I have been involved in student politics (writing, protesting, marching) since 1983, so I abandon the Romantic poets – preparation for my final exams – and we drive up to the university. The police are on one side of De Waal Drive, the protesting students on the other. We hold up placards – mine says Stop the State of Emergency – as the indifferent commuter traffic heads for the cocooned southern suburbs.

I watch the cops. I don’t like tear gas. “Five minutes to disperse!” yells the bull-necked officer, but the police are already charging. Everybody runs. I look back. There’s a cop gaining on me. His skin is raw from shaving and acne. I pass out.

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