Preparing the Ground for Artistic Freedom: Judicial Censorship of Publications in Pre-Apartheid South Africa, 1890-1948 (Het terrein voor artistieke vrijheid effenen – juridische censuur van publicaties in Zuid-Afrika vóór de apartheid)

Ted Laros


Starting from the premise that trials pertaining to literature might serve as a barometer registering the autonomisation of a literary field, this article explores the way in which the South(ern) African judiciary has regulated publications in the period from 1890 to 1948. Works that would have been characterized by literary experts or the literary socialized public as works of literary merit were not put on trial in this period. However, through a handful of cases that sometimes involved works of fiction or verse, the judiciary did introduce several concepts and practices that prepared the ground for the legal autonomisation of literature. Indeed, the trials analysed in this article suggest that a relative tolerance existed amongst the South (and South-West) African judiciary regarding the written word, classic literature, scientific and scholarly texts, and modern European art and literature – tolerance that was accompanied by a relative intolerance for ‘Puritan’ positions.


Institutional Autonomy of Literature; Pre-Apartheid South Africa; Trials Pertaining to Publications; (Colonial) Exceptio Artis/Artistic Freedom; Exceptio Scientiae; institutionele autonomie van literatuur; Zuid-Afrika voor de apartheid; rechtszaken

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