South Africa is a southern African country. It borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Lesotho.

Censorship was pervasive during apartheid (between 1949 and 1992). The country became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961 and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The main languages are English, Afrikaans and Zulu.

The African National Congress (ANC) is the dominant political party in South African politics.

General censorship[]

Under apartheid, freedom of speech was curtailed under apartheid legislation such as the Native Administration Act 1927 and the Suppression of Communism Act, 1950. In light of South Africa's racial and discriminatory history, particularly the Apartheid era, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa of 1996 precludes expression that is tantamount to the advocacy of hatred based on some listed grounds. Freedom of speech and expression are both protected and limited by a section in the South African Bill of Rights, chapter 2 of the Constitution. Section 16 makes the following provisions:

16. Freedom of expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes

a. freedom of the press and other media;
b. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
c. freedom of artistic creativity; and
d. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to

a. propaganda for war;
b. incitement of imminent violence; or
c. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

In 2005, the South African Constitutional Court set an international precedent in the case of Laugh It Off Promotions CC v South African Breweries International when it found that the small culture jamming company Laugh-it-Off's right to freedom of expression outweighs the protection of trademark of the world's second largest brewery. Currently, the South African National Assembly is considering passing a bill aimed at reducing hate speech and hate crimes.

The Freedom of the Press Report lists South Africa as being among the countries with one of the biggest declines in press freedom, dropping four places. It is now being seen as only "partly free". Thus, suggesting that political content has been to some extent censored by the African National Congress (ANC) government, who mostly introduced two measures reminiscent of the apartheid government's diminishing of the media

  • Firstly, the ANC government has been contemplating over developing a Media Appeal Tribunal which would have the ability to sanction journalists for 'misconduct' this would suggest that these measures have little to do with protecting the national interest.
  • Secondly, the Protection of State Information Bill, which will supply the government with expansive power to analyse almost any information involving an agent of the state as top secret, not to be reported on by journalists.

In 2013 Freedom House rated South Africa's "Internet Freedom Status" as "Free". In 2021, it was ranked 32nd on Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index.

Most of the media banned during the restrictive apartheid era, were unbanned since said political regime ended for good with the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994.

Book censorship[]

  • Frankenstein - this novel by Mary Shelley was banned during the Apartheid regime in 1955 for containing "obscene" or "indecent" material.
  • The Lottery - this short story by Shirley Jackson was banned in South Africa during Apartheid.
  • Lolita - this novel by Vladimir Nabokov was banned in South Africa for obscenity.
  • A World of Strangers - this novel by Nadine Gordimer was banned in South Africa for its criticism of Apartheid.
  • Why We Can't Wait - this work by Martin Luther King Jr. was banned during Apartheid for its criticism of white supremacy.
  • The First Book of Africa - This non-fiction children book was banned in South Africa during Apartheid for celebrating Black African culture.
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X was banned for its criticism of white supremacy.
  • Black Power: The Politics of Liberation - this book written by Stokely Carmichael (founder of the Black Panther Party) was banned for criticising white supremacy.
  • Soul on Ice - this novel by Eldridge Cleaver was banned during Apartheid rule for criticism of white supremacy, as well as featuring sexual content.
  • Tintin in Congo - Contrary from popular belief, this comic book is not banned in South Africa due to its outdated depiction of black people, as commonly reported.
  • Black Beauty - This novel was formerly banned in South Africa, because during apartheid, the words "black" and "beauty" in the title were not acceptable (since apartheid regime was infamous for practicing racial segregation), despite the fact that "Black Beauty" referred to a horse.
  • Burger's Daughter - On 5 July 1979, this book, which dealt with group of white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa seeking to overthrow the South African government, was banned from import and sale in South Africa. The reasons given by the Publications Control Board included "propagating Communist opinions", "creating a psychosis of revolution and rebellion", and "making several unbridled attacks against the authority entrusted with the maintenance of law and order and the safety of the state".
  • Why I Am Not a Christian - This book written by Bertrand Russel was banned in South Africa.
  • The Satanic Bible - This book was banned between 1973 and 1993 for moral reasons.
  • The Struggle Is My Life - this book by future president of South Africa Nelson Mandela was banned during Apartheid until Mandela's release from Robben Island prison in 1990.
  • July's People - this novel by Nadine Gordimer was banned during Apartheid-era South Africa. This book is now included in the South African school curriculum.
  • Did Six Million Really Die? - This book was banned for being Holocaust negationist material.

Television censorship[]

The South African National Party government refused to allow the introduction of television broadcasting until the 1970s, as the government felt that television would corrupt the South Africans. A national television service was eventually launched for the people of South Africa on January 5, 1976. In 1969, South Africa was one of the countries where the moon landing could not be seen live, which was seen as a national humiliation, proving to be the catalyst for the eventual lifting of the ban on television. Then, some production companies, as well as British actor union Equity, refused to sell their programs to the African country to protest against apartheid (to the point where at least one home video distributor declared any import of its products to South Africa as copyright infringement). Then, Japan arrived and sold some anime (among these being Heidi and Maya the Bee) to South Africa without the anti-apartheid movement being aware.

Movie censorship[]


Since 1996, films are rated by the Film and Publication Board (FPB), established under the directive set out in the Films and Publications Act of 1996. The FPB's function would be to receive complaints - or applications to evaluate - a film or publication, to classify it according to its suitability for different audiences. These publications could include movies, television programs, computer games, and music. The classification of a film or publication would trigger various prohibitions on possessing, exhibiting, distributing or advertising the film or publication.


Different ratings were devised, the most serious of which was "X18", which prohibited anyone without a specific license from distributing the content, which had to be conducted within "adult premises". The FPB has the following rating guideline:

  • A - All Ages (only for films)
  • PG - All Ages allowed, but some parental guidance is recommended for younger or sensitive viewers.
  • 7-9 PG - Material is not suitable for children under 7, but a caregiver or parent may decide if children between 7 and 9 years old may access the material.
  • 10-12 PG - Material is not suitable for children under 10, but a caregiver or parent may decide if children between 10 and 12 years old may access the material.
  • 13 - Not suitable for persons under the age of 13.
  • 16 - Not suitable for persons under the age of 16.
  • 18 - Not suitable for persons under the age of 18.
  • X18 - Adults only. Only licensed, adults-only designated businesses may distribute this content, and never to minors. X18 content may not be broadcast on public media such as television or radio.
  • XX - Banned. Cannot be legally sold, rented or exhibited anywhere in South Africa. The FPB has the authority to classify any content as XX if it contains bestiality, necrophilia, extreme violence and/or cruelty, extreme sexual violence or the glorification of crime or child pornography.

Additionally, the FPB provides the following content classifications:

  • B - "Blasphemy" - warns that content may be religiously sensitive
  • CI - "Competitive Intensity" - the degree to which a player gets personally involved, and the level of excitement created in the players as they engage with the various game levels in order to gain incentives and rewards
  • CT - "Criminal Techniques" - instructional details of illegal and dangerous acts that may be life-threatening and that are detailed enough to be re-enacted or self-instructional
  • D - "Drugs" - scenes of substance (drugs and alcohol) abuse
  • H - "Horror" - scenes of horror
  • IAT - "Imitative Acts or Techniques" - dangerous acts or techniques that may be copied or imitated, especially by children
  • L - "Language" - use of bad language
  • N - "Nudity" - scenes involving nudity
  • P - "Prejudice" - scenes or language that is biased or prejudiced with regard to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation or other identifiable group characteristics
  • PPS - "Photo Pattern Sensibility" - motion sickness and reactions to low frequency sound
  • S - "Sex" - "scenes involving sex, sexual conduct or sexually-related activity"
  • SV - "Sexual Violence" - scenes involving sexual violence
  • V - "Violence" - physical and psychological violent scenes

Certain key exemptions from prohibitions were made to the scientific community (in regard to bona fide scientific, documentary, dramatic, artistic, literary or religious films and publications), and the media (in that those holding a broadcasting license were exempt from the duty to apply for classification).

On 3 March 2020, Netflix agreed to obey the FPB's classification rules in the distribution of content in South Africa.

Instances of film censorship[]

  • Flaming Star - This film was initially banned on 31 May 1961, as the apartheid government, which then had strict laws to keep the races separate, banned the picture that same day because Presley "played the son of an American Indian woman and a white man." A day later, 20th Century Fox appealed, convincing the South Africa Board of Censors to lift the ban as long as it would not be shown to the country's indigenous population. The film then opened to segregated theaters, starting in Durban in early June. However, it was permanently banned in cinemas in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, as colonial government officials in those British territories were concerned that the movie could reignite racial tensions in the aftermath of the recent Mau Mau uprising.
  • Zulu - this film was banned from viewing for black people during the Apartheid era due to its depiction of a Zulu uprising. However, white people could watch it.
  • Up in Smoke - this stoner comedy film starring Cheech & Chong was banned in South Africa out of concerns that it "might encourage the impressionable youth of South Africa to take up marijuana smoking".
  • Being There - This film had its final scene cut during its original release due to the concern that the Twist Ending would offend Christians.
  • To Sir, with Love - This 1967 film about a black Guyanese teacher (played by Sidney Poitier) living in England and dealing with white students, was banned during apartheid. Since then, it has been rated A (for "all ages").
  • Cry Freedom - This film about the killing of black activist Steve Biko and its aftermath, despite common belief, was not banned during the apartheid. Said film was unexpectedly allowed to be screened uncut or unrestricted by South African authorities despite Biko's writings being banned at the time of its release[1].
  • A Clockwork Orange - The film was banned in South Africa due to its disturbing and sexual content; the ban was not lifted until 1984. Though when it released one censorship cut was made to the film, available for people over the age of 21.

Video games censorship[]

In South Africa, video games, much like movies, are rated by the Film and Publication Board.

Internet censorship[]

Online media in South Africa is currently regulated under the Films and Publications Act of 1996 as amended. Political content is partially censored in South Africa. However bloggers and content creators are not targeted for their online activities.

South Africa participates in regional efforts to combat cybercrime. The East African Community (consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) and the Southern African Development Community (consisting of Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) have both enacted plans to standardize cybercrime laws throughout their regions.

Under the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act of 2002 (ECTA), ISPs are required to respond to and implement take-down notices regarding illegal content such as child pornography, defamatory material, and copyright violations. Members of the Internet Service Providers Association are not liable for third-party content they do not create or select, however, they can lose this protection from liability if they do not respond to take-down requests. ISPs often err on the side of caution by taking down content to avoid litigation since there is no incentive for providers to defend the rights of the original content creator, even if they believe the take-down notice was requested in bad faith. There is no existing appeal mechanism for content creators or providers.

During May 2010 the Christian advocacy group Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA) authored a document titled "Internet and Cell Phone Pornography Bill". Their document proposes to make it illegal for Internet service providers in South Africa to distribute or permit the distribution of pornography. The document was presented to the Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba. Malusi Gigaba then asked the Law Reform Commission whether a change in the law was possible.

In July 2010 Malusi Gigaba then called for the fast-tracking of new regulation that would compel Internet service providers to filter content provided to users to ensure it does not contain any pornography.

In September 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld a ruling that prescreening publications (including Internet content) as required by the 2009 amendments to the Films and Publications Act of 1996 was an unconstitutional limitation on freedom of expression.

In September 2013 President Jacob Zuma refused to sign the Protection of State Information Bill (POSIB) into law and instead sent it back to the National Assembly for reconsideration. The bill provided for heavy penalties for journalists who reveal "State secrets", including a prison sentence of up to 25 years for "divulging classified information". The bill was criticized because of the danger it posed to investigative journalism.

In November 2013, the Protection of Personal Information Act was signed into law, enacting measures to protect users’ online security, privacy, and data. No law ensuring the constitutional right to privacy existed previous to POPI, which allows an individual to bring civil claims against those who contravene the act. 35 Penalties for contravening the law are stiff, including prison terms and fines of up to ZAR 10 million (over US$900,000).

  • Sections 2 to 38; sections 55 to 109; section 111, and section 114 (1), (2) and (3) shall commence on 1 July 2020
  • Sections 110 and 114(4) shall commence on 30 June 2021
  • 01 July 2021: Section 58(2) of the Act shall commence on this date. Refer to GG44383
  • 01 February 2022: Section 58(2) of the Act shall become applicable to processing referred to in section 57 of the Act. Refer to GG 44782

Blocked websites[]

In 2006, the government of South Africa began prohibiting sites hosted in the country from displaying X18 (explicitly sexual) and XXX content (including child pornography and depictions of violent sexual acts); site owners who refuse to comply are punishable under the Film and Publications Act 1996. In 2007 a South African "sex blogger" was arrested.


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