This site is intended as a weblog of the IPP, a sporadic, idiosyncratic investigation of independent publishing in South Africa - launched at Blank Projects, Cape Town, in September 2011. Visit or follow this page for updates on the project's trajectory and to view research paraphernalia as it happens. For more information email
2012, 08 May - 01 June: Research office at the Parking Gallery with Research Art

2012, 15 March - 26 April: Workshop and exhibition at Goethe-Institut Library with Josh Ginsburg, Jared Ginsburg, Ryan van Huyssteen, Jacques du Toit, Georgia Munnik, Talya Lubinsky, Ndaxola Nkalashe, Shannon Ferguson, Mika Conradie, Michael Maqungo, Sebastian Borckenhagen, Rangoato Hlasane, Alphabet Zoo (Mini Ngoyi, Isaac Zavale), CUSS (Jamal Nxedlana, Ravi Govender, Zamani Xolo & Nikki Comninos) and others.

2011, 8 September - 1 October: IPP launch with a temporary library and workshop at blank projects with Josh Ginsburg, Stuart Cairns, Sebastian Borckenhagen, James King, Athi Mongezeleli Joja, Christian Nerf, Nathan Gates, Trasi Henen, Jared Ginsburg, Kyle Morland, Lance Herman, Bianca Baldi, Unathi Mkonto, Emalie Bingham, Ryan van Huyssteen, Sjaka Septembir, Jamal Nxedlana, Ravi Govender, Zamani Xolo, Lalya Leiman and Amirah Tadin of CUSS Monthly, and others.

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A few overlaps - the IPP at the University of Johannesburg, the Info Scandal, and Afri-Comics

On the 9th of April, 2012, Robyn Cook (of Sober & Lonely fame and currently lecturing at the University of Johannesburg) invited me (Francis Burger) to give a guest lecture to her 4th year design students about the IPP.

I spent an evening (and a morning) sifting through covers of our one-time collection and presented a selection of items. The IPP has been dormant for a while so it was interesting to revisit our dedicated but still unresolved archive, particularly to note the origins of certain threads that have persisted into other projects. Taking heed of what stuck out within the presentation at UJ, this blog appeared as an opportune site to log a tentative overlap report, while new blogs for new projects remain in the pipelines... (1)

Organised chronologically, the selection I presented at UJ began with volume 17 of 'Die Brandwag', published in 1912 and loaned to us in 2011 by Sean O'Toole. 

I'd bought a second hand copy of The Readers Digest 'Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story', 1994, as a resource and prop for an exhibition earlier this year, which offers this brief history of the magazine's origins (click to enlarge):

Oakes, Dougie. 1994. The Readers Digest Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story. Third Edition. Cape Town: Readers Digest.

The exhibition, titled 23 kilograms, was curated by Bettina Malcomess and hosted by gallery West in the Hague, the Netherlands. Participating artists included myself, Donna Kukama, Zen Marie and Siemon Allen. Siemon Allen has subsequently sent me the following Brandwag covers from his personal collection, showing the first issue from 1910 and one from 1975 :

Before leaving for the exhibition in the Hague, I met with Siemon in Durban and he recommended that I look out for a book by Eschel Rhoodie called 'The Real Information Scandal'. A week or two later, Bettina Malcomess arrived in the Hague with the book amongst her own project specific library. In the following weeks I worked at a library in Amsterdam, finding more and more sources dealing with this strangely muted historical event.

Also known as 'Muldergate', the Information Scandal unfolded in South African and international media in the late 1970s and saw top National Party (NP) officials ousted from government after certain ‘irregularities’ within the Department of Information (DOI) were revealed.

The key players included the Prime Minister B.J. Vorster, Bureau of State Security head General Hendrik van den Bergh, Minister of Information Connie Mulder and Secretary of Information Eschel Rhoodie. As part of a clandestine ‘propaganda war’ in the spirit of van den Bergh and other’s ‘counter-espionage’ tactics, the Apartheid government had successively bought up international and national publishing houses and publications, launched and circulated numerous publications (including the Citizen newspaper, still active today) and sponsored the production of action films, comics, etc. The emotive reckoning of the almost decade long ‘PR campaign’ for Apartheid South Africa, and Vorster in particular, was to provide well tailored ‘facts’ to counteract rising international criticism and condemnation.

As it happened, millions of Rands were poured from ‘secret budgets’ into ‘secret projects’ into Swiss bank accounts… Vorster’s successor, P.W. Botha, used the scandal to secure his own political footing, halted the commissions of inquiry before they could expose more debilitating government secrets, and underhandedly vetoed many of the ‘secret projects’ to continue long into the 80s and early 90s.

When Mark Kannemeyer came to the Goethe-Institut in 2012 as part of the second public run of the IPP, he showed some 'Afri-Comics' publications, amongst others. Kannemeyer contextualised the comics as state propaganda, produced in the 70s. I photographed one of his issues, as well as the brash 'message from the publisher' that features as a foreword.

Siemon Allen had mentioned the comics in our initial conversation, and I subsequently found reference to 'Afri-comics' in Rhoodies tell-all monologue. The comics were indeed a product of Rhoodie et al's propaganda war'. Produced in the USA under the guise of a front company the comics were an awkward attempt to sway the favour of South Africa's black youth.
In the Afri-Comics series, the central protaganist, 'Mighty Man', is characterized as a "human law enforcing dynamo", an odd choice to address an urban youth growing up in constant and inevitable conflict with a state apparatus whose 'laws' were designed to herd and stunt them. (2) 

The tactic is familiar in the context of the DOI, focusing attention toward issues internal to communities (tsotsis being a favourite theme) to deflect attention away from the more all-encompassing problem of the Apartheid state (see Rhoodie 1983 and Rees & Day 1980). In this case, the DOI thoroughly underestimated their audience. In his blog post about the comics, Nick Wood echoes this sentiment and adds that even to him, growing up in the shelter of white suburbia, the exploits of his own American born comic heroes seemed far fetched.

The comics were conceptualised in 1975 and by seem to have had a two year run, spanning 1976, the year of the Soweto student uprising and 1977, the year of Steve Biko's arrest and murder, to put things in historical perspective. According to a short article by Steve Weissman (1978), the comics were removed from the newsstands in 1977.
Weisman's report is reproduced here with caution and should itself be read with a critical eye. Firstly, the report is written preceding the 'full' exposure of the Info Scandal, and still attributes the origins of the comics to the likes of Richard Manville, a close connection of Eschel Rhoodie. (3) Which is also why, given the dirth of other online information, most mentions of the comics do not disclose their origins as actual government propaganda. Secondly, like many reports of the day, the language used to describe the atmosphere of Soweto speaks ultimately of an angry mob: "But even as the law enforcing dynamo was engaging in his mind-bending adventures, the outside agitators stirred up the simple folk of Soweto to riot-WHAM! CRASH! THUD!...'They burned down the newsstands, complains the strip's US creator, Richard Manville, they threw the things on the ground, and we had to stop publishing them'" (Weissman 1978).

Having read similar accounts of the various upheavals in Soweto c1976, the tone itself smacks of attempts to subtly delegitimate what must be one of the greatest moments of youth defiance in human history. The article illustrated below, from the DOI's champion propaganda mouthpiece To the Point,  illustrates this violent reductionism perfectly. (4) An intensely detailed, corrective account of the uprisings by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu is available HERE.

1. Managing these kind of overlaps can be tricky when one works on a project to project basis, particularly when there are collaborative elements involved or when ones role changes from facilitator to artist. For some time, I've shied away from conflation in favour of good project boundaries. More recently, I've found the magnitude of certain research themes gradually steering me in the opposite direction, where conflation becomes an opportunity to give certain research threads a greater longevity and sustainability. This blog post, which speaks to three projects in progress, is a case in point!

2. Another character, Tiger-Ingwe, seems to be a translation casualty ('ingwe' or 'izingwe' translates as 'leopard' in Zulu, or tiger, at a stretch, making the character either 'Tiger-Leopard' or 'Tiger-Tiger', which is just silly).

3. The article is dated January/February 1978, early in the year that the 'full' story of the info scandal broke (see Rees & Day 1980). 

4. The report also, interestingly, features a mention of Mike Nicol, writer of A Good-Looking Corpse, The World of Drum – jazz and gangsters, hope and defiance in the townships of South Africa (Secker & Warburg, London, 1991) as a 'to the point' staff reporter...


Rees, Mervyn & Day, Chris. 1980. Muldergate: The Story of the Info Scandal. Johannesburg: Macmillan.
Rhoodie, Eschel. 1983. The Real Information Scandal. Atlanta: Orbis SA.  

Weissman, Steve. 1978. 'American publisher peddles South Africa', Southern Africa, January/February.