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 In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail 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 Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More