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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs