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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid