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The securocrat’s guide to literary criticism

26 July 2008

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.

But I wonder if people who read Belloc or Chesterton will be in danger of ending up at Guantanamo Bay?

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!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 July 2008 10:22 pm

    We must stamp out this kind of thinking at once! What are these people thinking? A revolution could be started through the re-covering of trickily-dimensioned couches all over the country…this could lead to…aaaaarrrrgh! It’s too horrible to comprehend!

  2. 27 July 2008 4:21 pm

    Wow, you could write a whole other version of 1984 (what would it be entitled now, 2054?) based off of this experience.

  3. 28 July 2008 12:16 am


    I’m just glad that it actually happened in 1964, and though it was still happening in 1984, the Security Police were disbanded after 1994. We may still have problems, but at least it’s a free country.

    Perhaps I should add an interesting quote from G.K. Chesterton about socialism, which might give a clue about why the securocrats feared him:

    “A radical does not mean a man who lives on radishes, and a Conservative does not mean a man who preserves jam. Neither, I assure you, does a Socialist mean a man who desires a social evening with the chimney-sweep. A Socialist means a man who wants all the chimneys swept and all the chimney-sweeps paid for it” (from The innocence of Father Brown).

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