The securocrat’s guide to literary criticism
A couple of years ago I read the secret reports the Security Police had sent about me to the Minister of Justice, and recently a friend let me have copies of his, which he had scanned to PDF files. The overall impression one gets from reading them is the banality of evil. Occasionally there are huge atrocities, where people are killed or driven from their homes, but so much of the time of the security forces was occupied with petty harassment — as C.S. Lewis put it, like a nasty little boy at a preparatory school.
When people asked why they were banned, or detained without trial, the standard response from the Minister was that this could not be disclosed, as it would threaten the security of the state. But now the reasons are revealed, in all their pettiness.
And one of the funniest is the excursion of the Security Police into literary criticism. Point 39 in the executive summary the Security Police sent to the Minister of Justice was:
A sensitive source reported on 6.1.1968 that he joked with Stephen Hays about Christ, the Churches and The Honourable Advocate Vorster. On 13 .1.1967 he recommended the books of certain authors such as H.L. Morton, Sartre (Communists), Belloc and Chesterton (Socialists) to hays.
So there you have it – recommending those authors is an activity that “furthers or is calculated to further any of the objects of communism” or at least it was in the South Africa of 40 years ago.
One wonders who the “sensitive source” (‘n delikate bron) was? Probably some jobsworth steaming open letters in the basement of the post office, since on the dates in question I was in the Netherlands and UK respectively. And why could the identity of this source not be revealed to the Honourable Advocate Vorster himself?
But what has changed in 40 years? Now George Bush has set up a Department of Homeland Security to do that kind of stuff in the USA.
And as for H.L. Morton! What could be more dangerous to the security of the state than the works of this subversive author? As one reviewer was carried away to say
This beautiful, inspirational book seduced me into believing that I could reupholster an antique sofa of tricky dimensions.
The gorgeous photographs, clear illustrations and sensible step-by-step instructions were logical and easy to follow. The completion of each stage was satisfying and…
We can’t allow anyone to recommend that sort of subversive slime!