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A bad gag

THE government of South Africa has again demonstrated its commitment to democracy. The Weekly Mail, a small but influential newspaper, was ordered to close up shop for a month. Home Minister Stoffel Botha can take this kind of arbitrary action under the country's 28-month-old state of emergency. All he must do is to conclude that a journal is a threat to public safety. In the past year he has silenced, temporarily, two other publications, the New Nation, which has a largely black readership, and the magazine South.

The Daily Mail is widely considered one of the country's best-written journals. Many of its readers are white, well educated, and affluent.

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The paper's coverage - so offensive to Mr. Botha - emphasizes abuses of power by the military and police and the actions of anti-apartheid activists, including banned groups like the African National Congress.

The Mail's editors and writers are down for a month but far from out. They plan to start up again come early December. Their commitment to democratic processes should put the government to shame.