The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Censorship and Porn: My Testimony to the South African Parliament

This is testimony I gave to the South African Parliament in 1996 regarding new censorship legislation being considered by the ANC government to replace previous censorship laws considered unconstitutional under the new constitution. I have Americanized the spelling.

I come here to plead a special case. I come to plead for morality.

Often the word morality has been tossed about in this room. Yet I do not believe it has been used appropriately.

It has most been used by those who wish you to grant them the power to censor or ban material which they don’t like. They may say they don’t want the power themselves, they want the State to execute that power. But in the end they are asking that the coercive power of government be used on behalf of their own particular opinions.

What is censorship? It is the use of force to prevent another person from expressing their ideas with their own resources or the resources which others freely allow them. If I don’t want to print or read a particular publication it is not censorship. But if I prevent you from doing so, then it is.

An act of censorship, at its core, is coercion. It is violence or the threat of violence. How are censorship laws enforced? The only way these laws are enforced is by the point of a gun.

When a citizen’s home or business is ransacked by armed police officers the threat is clear. When publications are confiscated they are done by the use of superior force over the individual. Any individual who attempts to protect his property from this confiscation will see first hand what is the actual essence of censorship.

That is the type of society in which the advocates of censorship wish to live; one where peaceful, non-aggressive individuals face armed men with the power to control what they will read and what they will look at. And this is done in the name of morality. It is never moral to initiate force against another human being. To do so in the name of morality is the height of hypocrisy and a monstrous injustice.

Is force every justified? Yes, when it is necessary to protect the individual from a violation of rights. But, it is not justice — it is not morality — to use force to destroy individual rights.

On December 31st three armed men followed an individual up my driveway and hijacked his car. We are importing doctors in the hope of shoring up the health care system while South African born doctors are fleeing crime. Not long ago a doctor, who came to this country to work at Baragwanath, was shot by hijackers while leaving the hospital. All the statistics show violent crime has escalated.

What are the legions of pro-censorship individuals asking us to do in the midst of this crisis? They are asking us to transfer millions of rands into the task of policing what books people read. They are asking us to use scare police resources to raid bookstores. They are asking us to tie up the courts and ultimately the prisons with peaceful individuals who haven’t violated the rights of anyone. For what? — so that they can impose their own particular standards of sexual morality on consenting adults!

I am outraged that a country, which is overburdened by real crime, is being asked by these self-appointed moralists to waste scare police resources to violate the natural rights of their fellow citizens.

About a year ago some men walked into Eastgate shopping centre with AK-4 7s. They fired randomly to terrify the shoppers and then robbed a jewelry store. That same day the local police were spending several hours raiding an adult bookshop and then spending several hours more filling out the paperwork and no doubt many more hours viewing the confiscated material — to see if it was really obscene.

Those police officers wasted days to chase some magazines and videos. They didn’t have time to chase after armed robbers or murderers or hijackers or kidnapers, ad infinitum.

Two years ago someone slashed the tires of my car, which I reported to the police. That same individual, who is allowed to remain anonymous, called the police and reported that I had an adult video. Two police officers rang my bell and asked to be admitted to “investigate” the vandalism. When I admitted them they spent 15 minutes telling me it was useless to investigate. They asked me to withdraw my complaint so police resources wouldn’t be wasted on something as unimportant as slashed tires. I agreed.

They stood up to leave and then informed me they intended to search my home for “pornography.” I asked for a search warrant and they openly told me they didn’t need one. I told them to leave. One officer went to his car and radioed in to the police headquarters. He told them he had a big drug bust and within minutes 7 others officers and their dog arrived on my front doorstep. Unlike the United States, which has a Bill of Rights, police officers here are allowed to search private property without a warrant as long as they lie first. As long as they pretend they are searching for drugs they can do what they want. The dog sniffed the entire premises and found no drugs — of course not since the officer in question made it up to justify his warrantless search. For the next five hours three police officers went through every closet and drawer in my home. They didn’t have anything better to do. I must say that I was totally amused when they debated among themselves whether or not to confiscate a postcard I had because it had a picture of a naked statue on it. For the record they finally decided I could keep it — after all it didn’t have any arms or head.

In the crime crisis in which we find ourselves anyone who appears before this body pleading the police be diverted away from crime is an accomplice of the criminal. The would-be censor is the friend of every murderer and hijacker in South Africa. As far as I am concerned they are accomplices before and after the fact. And to do so in the name of morality makes a joke out of human decency.

Another way they besmirch morality is to ask this body to destroy the concept of equal rights. In a free, open, and democratic society all individuals should have equal freedom. But they want special rights for themselves. They would never wish to grant me the power to determine what they read. But, they plead with you for the power to determine what I read. They might argue they don’t want such powers personally.

Instead, they want this body to act as their agent. But, when I hire someone to do my dirty work I am still responsible. They wish to stand behind the curtains and direct the violation of individual rights but they don’t want to get their own hands dirty. If they are so sure they are right then why don’t they ransack my bookshelves themselves? Why don’t they confiscate the books they don’t like?

I will tell you why. For them to so openly use force to aggress against the rights and property of their neighbours would be seen by everyone concerned as a criminal act. Where do they obtain the power to authorize this body to do what they themselves would be arrested for doing? This IS not only immoral, but cowardly.

In the name of morality they appear before this body and tell you half-truths. In some instances they don’t even get it half right. According to press accounts one would-be censor told this body that most people selling erotica are also involved in the drug trade.

Is this true? Or is it a lie meant to sway this body with false information? If it is true then this individual must have the proof to back up his statement. Has he given the police the names of these drug dealers and the proof of their acts? If he hasn’t, why not? I have read nothing in the press to indicate he has and I doubt this would escape the attention of the media. What would it mean if he hasn’t given his evidence to the police?

It either means that he has no evidence and purposely deceived this body. Or it means he has the evidence but doesn’t see it necessary to give this information to the appropriate authorities. The first alternative would, by most definitions, strip him of any right to come here speaking in the name of morality. The second would prove him a hypocrite. I would also like to wonder why the media never asked this man to back up his accusations with any evidence. It isn’t too late. He still has time to draw up the list of drug dealers and make it public along with the evidence to back up his claims. I have already mentioned the distraction of police resources that a return to censorship would require. But I haven’t mentioned how this helps corrupt our police department in the name of morality.

Note: I am pointing out the hypocrisy of the man in question, who I later debated on national television, not endorsing drug laws. I support legalization, although not the use of said products.

Let me give an example. Last week a small adult shop in the Vaal Triangle was raided by a Sergeant Smit. According to the woman who runs the shop he came in and started confiscating everything in sight. He told her he was responding to a complaint from a friend of his, who owned the other adult shop in town. He also told her not to worry. She would have to pay a R250 admission of guilt fine but then she could buy back the confiscated items from him! I understand a formal complaint has been filed.

I know of another case involving a shop in the Johannesburg area. A few minutes before closing two police officers entered the shop and confiscated all the video tapes. The next day the owner was invited to meet with them. They offered him two alternatives: for R500 he could have his items back or, if he didn’t pay, the material would be confiscated and a docket opened against him. He paid and left with all the confiscated goods.

One friend from the Durban area told how friends of his in the police force regularly had film evenings where they showed confiscated videos to others for a small admission charge. For the right fee you could purchase copies from the officers. A newspaper report concerning a police officer arrested for rape mentioned, in passing, how a large group of officers would regularly show porn films. It did not mention how this material was obtained, but at the time the items were not readily available in adult shops. I spoke with one businessman whose home was raided and three videos confiscated. When he got to court only one video still remained as evidence — the other two vanished.

The police officers who spent an entire afternoon rearranging my closets told me they didn’t agree with the law they were enforcing; I have been told this by several officers who regularly confiscate porn. If the officers themselves only enforce the law reluctantly and if they don’t see the need for such a law, then we are only asking for trouble when we impose censorship. We are creating a scenario that will encourage police corruption. Police officers can be corrupted more easily when they are not supporters of the legislation in question. Every adult shop I have spoken to has mentioned how numerous police officers are customers.

I recognize many deeply religious people are offended by sexually explicit material. From press reports it seems most of the people who have flooded this chamber did so because of their religious beliefs. They are genuinely offended by anything dealing with sex.

But, in a free society there can be no such right as the right to not be offended. Offense is too subjective and personal to be legally defined. Non-believers may be offended by the mere fact a church exists but that doesn’t give them the right to ban churches. Some extremely religious people are offended by the fact that adult publications exist but that doesn’t give them the right to ban them.

Just last week I walked into a Christian bookshop in Flora Centre in Roodepoort. This shop was clearly of a fundamentalist evangelical bent — much like many of the people who want porn banned because it offends them. In that shop I found a large selection of offensive literature — but it wasn’t offensive to the people who run the shop, nor to the majority of their customers. In that one store they had printed attacks on gay men and women, attacks on members of the Mormon church, attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses, attacks on believers in astrology, or so-called New Age religions, even attacks on Freemasons. Recently I watched a Christian television show which claimed that much of the indigenous African beliefs are Satanic and evil. I mention this to point out they have double standards. They want material they find offensive banned but they openly sell (even to children no doubt) material many other South Africans find offensive. Should the fact they offend others strip them of their right to read or publish what they want? No. Just as the fact that adult material offends them is not a justification for censorship either.

In the appendix to my testimony I include a lot of material dealing with the sociological and psychological studies on pornography. In that material I show the claims that porn creates crime simply isn’t true. I won’t go into that now as the members of this committee are quite capable of reading the material themselves. You will see this material includes direct quotes from individuals who have been repeatedly misquoted by anticensorship activists. But I would like to grant a premise, temporarily, made by the would-be censors.

They contend some people may rape or molest as the result of reading adult material. While the evidence doesn’t show this to be likely, and in most instances adult material seems to have the opposite effect, it certainly is possible that one deranged individual some where, can be inspired to do horrible things because of his own unique interpretation of reality.

Let me give a few examples. Andrea Cowan was a religious woman. Her brother-in-law was pastor of the Rock Zion Baptist Church, which she faithfully attended. She was arrested for ripping out the eye of a 16-year-old boy. When arrested she quoted the Bible, Matt. 18:9 “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee.” The Rev. Jim Jones was one of the most prominent ministers in San Francisco. He packed up hundreds of his church members and moved to South America where, using religion as his excuse, he finally persuaded hundreds of men, women and children to kill themselves.

As a youth I attended a, fundamentalist Christian school and from there I went to a Christian Bible College. During that time I knew hundreds and hundreds of staunch Christians. I also knew of an incredible amount of very cruel physical punishments. The minister who ran the church, which is the largest in the United States, regularly preached children should be whipped until they have welts. And many church members followed that belief — some of them until blood was drawn. I know — I went to school with their children. This was all justified by their interpretation of the Bible.

My point is simple. Any publication may act as a catalyst for an unstable individual to commit a vicious act. The fact that a tiny number of individuals go off the deep end is not justification for denying a publication to the vast majority of individuals who never commit such acts. Every government in the world faces the problem of corrupt members but who in this room would say that the misuse of government power is a reason for abolishing government?

The final group that often leads the pro-censorship march are certain ideological feminists. I point out the leading anticensorship books on the market today are all written by women — those women are Nadine Strossen, Wendy McElroy and Marcia Pally.

The radical feminist perspective says porn should be banned because it degrades women. In the appendix, which I will hand out, there will be a detailed discussion of that feminist case for censorship so I will only give a synopsis. The major theorists within the pro-censorship feminists are Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon. These two argue porn is degrading to women because women are raped to produce porn. But most women, and men, who work in the porn business do so voluntarily. Dworkin and MacKinnon disagree. They say no women can consent to be raped and all penile penetration is rape — including that which takes place between married couples. MacKinnon says the only difference between rape and intercourse is that intercourse “happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it.” Dworkin says any male/female intercourse is a means “of physiologically making a woman inferior.” She also says that force IS “the essential purpose of the penis.” These people are attacking porn because they believe any sex involving a man, be it heterosexual or homosexual, is rape.

The final point I wish to make regards the morality of counting hands in determining rights. It has been argued porn should be banned because lots of people want it banned. This is the “nose counting theory of lights “ and I find it morally repugnant. Apartheid was immoral because it violated the rights of individuals. It wasn’t immoral because it was done by a minority — it would have still been immoral if practiced by a majority. The regime of Adolph Hitler was immoral in spite of being democratically elected. A straw poll never justifies an immoral act.

The fundamental basis of a free society is individual rights. The purpose of government is the protection of those rights even in the face of angry mobs demanding those rights be suspended — especially in the face of angry mobs. If every South African, including rnyself, was offended by the publication of a book and just one citizen wished to read that book, I would defend his right to do so. The only way I can be secure in knowing that my rights are protected is by protecting the rights of the smallest minority — even the minority of one.

At times when angry people fueled, not be reason, but by emotion come to this body demanding a return to repression only those individuals with integrity, courage andprincip1e can stand up to them. I pray that the members of this committee can look beyound the immediate to the future. Those with forward vision will not want to return to the dark days of censorship and repression. Someone once said a politician looks at today while a statesman looks at tomorrow. I hope that we have enough statesmen in this room that individual freedom will triumph.

Thank you.

After the testimony was given the SABC television network asked the chairman of the committee in question to recommend two individuals to debate. I was asked to oppose one Horace van Rensburg, who I referenced, but not by name. Below will be a copy of a newspaper column about that debate, underneath our announcements. Van Rensburg had a breakdown during the debate and when it was over was still sitting in his chair screaming at my empty chair and lecturing me, although the studio was empty. He disappeared from politics at that point and the next time I saw him he was in a stupor being led around by his wife. He seemed to have something severely wrong with him.

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