News / Africa

New South African Secrecy Law Sparks Outrage

A protester holds a placard reading 'I Love Secrets' during a anti secrets bill protest at parliament in the city of Cape Town, South Africa, November 22, 2011.
A protester holds a placard reading 'I Love Secrets' during a anti secrets bill protest at parliament in the city of Cape Town, South Africa, November 22, 2011.
Peta Thornycroft

South African activists are vowing to defend media freedom after the parliament Tuesday passed a state secrets bill that opponents say will stop media from exposing public corruption. The legislation - designed by the ruling African National Congress - has sparked protests from all sectors of society and political opinion.

There are few influential people in South Africa outside of the ANC, and even some in the party, who are happy about the new secrecy law which was adopted in parliament by a vote of 229 to 107 Tuesday.

Raymond Louw, veteran former anti-apartheid editor and media activist - declared a “hero” by the International Press Institute in August - says the law is a betrayal of the ANC’s commitment to press freedom.

“The intention of this bill is to stop the media from disclosing corruption, malpractice and misgovernance, and inefficiencies. It is a betrayal of the commitment to a free press and the constitutional commitment to a free press because it is so wide ranging," said Louw. "And it is not reasonable for them to want to cover up secrets beyond those which are absolutely necessary for protection of national security.”

Censorship

The legislation bans the release of classified documents - even if the information could be in the public’s benefit. Anyone involved in publishing such information could face 25 years in prison.

Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for Democracy at the University of Johannesburg, is concerned that the bill emerged because of the growing power of the security sector within President Jacob Zuma’s administration.

"What you are seeing here is a long process in which the intelligence people and security people have been battling with various political interests and right now the intelligence people and security people have won," said Friedman. "That is consistent with the general pattern of the Zuma administration in which he has appointed people very close to him in security positions and tends to give them as much leeway as they want.”

Implications

Academic and public speaker, Eusebius McKaiser says the implications of the bill would undermine South Africa’s open society.

“The first and the most important is that the bill will have negative consequences for South Africa’s democracy in the sense that it will allow for less information about what the state is up to in the public space," said McKaiser. "It gives too much power to securocrats over national decisions. That is nonsense even the securocrats need to have systems in place to check whether they are abusing their power and the bill doesn’t speak to that.”

Critics of the bill held street protests at the ANC headquarters Tuesday clad in black. The National Press Club of South Africa ran a Twitter campaign asking if the country wished to continue with the “Black Tuesday” protest every week until the law is repealed. The Press club says 99% of respondents supported the idea.

Outrage

But it is not just journalists who are outraged.

Launching her new book Wednesday, The African National Congress and the Regeneration of Political Power, author and political scientist Professor Susan Booysen from the University of the Witwatersrand said the demonstrations against the secrecy bill were extraordinary because they crossed so many shades of public opinion.

“Yesterday [Tuesday] was an incredibly important day. We have not seen this kind of unity between civil society, opposition parties, dissenting voices on the left coming together. We have not seen this kind of unity in action," she said. "This kind of united action makes an impression on people’s minds, makes them look up and turn around twice when the ANC says certain things. So I think as a general contribution to change in political culture I think it was a huge day in South African politics.”

South African Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu has called the bill “insulting.”

Amnesty International has also condemned the bill as fatally flawed and unconstitutional.  The London-based group says it “will severely limit the crucial right of journalists and whistle blowers to expose corruption.”

Justification

Friedman says ANC politicians justify the secrecy bill by saying South Africa was under threat from spies.

“Both the head of the parliamentary committee and the minister himself and some of their supporters continuously tell us that we are being overrun by foreign spies threatening our security. There is no evidence to support this," said Friedman. "We have no enemies at all.  If there is any threat to stability, it comes from inside rather than outside and clearly we have a record of intelligence services getting involved in political disputes. This is about protecting intelligence people from public scrutiny. “

At the same time Friedman says the secrecy bill does not actually prohibit journalists from reporting corruption and notes the media is guilty of what he called a "sloppy" interpretation of the bill.

Before it becomes law, the secrecy bill goes to the second chamber, the National Council of Provinces - where the ANC also has a massive majority.

The National Press Club and other opponents are vowing to take the matter all the way to the highest judicial body - the Constitutional Court.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid