News / Africa

South Africa Close to Passing 'Secrecy' Bill

FILE - Activists and supporters of the Right2Know Campaign hold a night vigil outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Sept. 19, 2011.FILE - Activists and supporters of the Right2Know Campaign hold a night vigil outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Sept. 19, 2011.
FILE - Activists and supporters of the Right2Know Campaign hold a night vigil outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Sept. 19, 2011.
FILE - Activists and supporters of the Right2Know Campaign hold a night vigil outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, Sept. 19, 2011.
Anita Powell
South African legislators are looking at a final draft of the controversial Protection of State Information Bill, a proposed law that critics say would seriously curtail freedoms in Africa’s most prominent democracy.  

It is a familiar journalism scenario: An intrepid reporter publishes a story exposing corruption by a top official; the president promptly fires the official from his post.

In South Africa, however, this scenario is the subject of intense debate. The day after publishing his expose of police commissioner Bheki Cele in 2010, reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested and charged with fraud and "defeating the ends of justice."

Critics say that outcome could become increasingly common if South Africa’s government passes the Protection of State Information Bill.

The bill grants public officials the right to classify information as secret. Those who publish classified information could face jail time of up to 25 years.

The National Assembly passed the bill Tuesday, despite objections from opposition parties. From there it will go to the National Council of Provinces and then back to the National Assembly, a process that could be wrapped up in just a few days.

Officials who back the bill say it would protect valuable state information against espionage. The bill has support from the ruling African National Congress party, which dominates parliament.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj declined to comment on behalf of President Jacob Zuma, who previously has indicated support for the bill, as Maharaj said it would be inappropriate to interfere with legislators’ debate. It will be up to Zuma to ultimately sign the bill into law.

Murray Hunter is a national representative of the Right2Know Campaign, which opposes the bill. He says activists and lawmakers who objected to it have succeeded in softening some of its harsher clauses, but that it is still too harsh.

“And we feel that there’s much to be concerned about the law and what it potentially means for the state of openness in South African democracy," said Hunter. "And the reason I say that is that whenever a law gives potential for abuse, when it classifies information as secret, it potentially jeopardizes both the safety and the freedom of whistleblowers in the civil service, or the public service, who are seeking to expose wrongdoing. It also potentially criminalizes or jeopardizes, journalists... and activists, and ultimately has the effect of shutting the public out of government processes.”

Many prominent media houses - both local and international - have spoken out against previous versions of the bill. With parliamentary approval looking likely, though, it might be here to stay.

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by: oneye from: usa
April 24, 2013 12:05 AM
i left sa in 1976 when there was no freedom of the press. i return in 2013 to find no freedom of the press. there is no excuse. the usa has freedom of speech as the first amendment, the only one that may not be abrogated by the others, including security. the press is called the fourth estate for good reason. without it, democracy is gone. how did this get left out of the new constitution? the anc has betrayed the revolution, and pretends it is under military attack. it is now just another totalitarian rag, with indecency and obscene violence as its primary tools.

for this opinion i can be arrested. how undemocratic, indecent and obscene.

by: Mbasawe Enchata from: South Africa
April 23, 2013 7:36 PM
so many SAs are pining nostalgically for apartheid. De facto, nothing has changed, the races are as separated as ever, but really, no one here want to be ruled by the majority of corrupt degenerates... AIDS and crime is through the roof... large scale thievery by political office holders is running rampant... as I said, way too many here are pining for the old Apartheid.

by: Nobucks from: Cape Town
April 23, 2013 5:33 PM
This article does not do the situation in SA justice. No mention of the INCOMPREHENSIBLE levels of corruption. South Africa is losing literally billions of dollars to "government officials" who's main day to day concern is how to keep swindling on an ever increasing scale. 350 years in the making to become the most developed country on the continent.
Let's see how long it will take for all that hard work to be undone.
The African way is to look backwards to their ancestors, and to always remember how they've been wronged. For the tiny percent who have ascended to the exclusive golden mafia of government, now is their time to consume.
The culture will never let them look at our history from the perspective of what happened here as being the most vital thing to the survival of the African person in Africa.

This is not about who's culture is better. The big picture is that all members of the human species need to be in the same general "ball park" in terms of human development.
It's been happening practically from the beginning of life and human existence, one dominating another.
Would I feel different if I had been born a black African instead of a white one, maybe. No matter how I would feel, it doesnt change the fact that the people of Africa needed to catch up with the rest of the advancing world around it, or be left behind to an inevitable divergence and extinction. Sounds dramatic, but you suggest that maybe the alternative was for the rest of the world to just fly over africa, to never set foot on this continent, maybe they would have come up with the internet and space flight on their own?. It is because we are human that we are able to use our intellect to work around some of natures laws, but it is impossible to be correct in thinking that the greatest law governing life itself, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST does not apply to us.

Maybe if I wrote another thousand words, I could cover up every potential angle of attack to my argument, but im not going to bother.

The massive head start this county was given at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of lives it took to get it to this point, just to watch it being thrown away for the personal gain of a small few.

The secrecy bill is another chunk of the country sinking into the abyss, and it's happening right in front of our eyes.

by: Kelebogile from: Bloemfontein
April 23, 2013 4:09 PM
These old legislators that live in the past will not be able to control social media, the catalyst of the Arab Spring Revolution.There are many ways to expose and report about corruption.

by: Help Us from: South Africa
April 23, 2013 3:36 PM
Dear Anonymous, please bring all SA Internet services - especially those run by the government - to it's knees in protest. For at least long enough so as to cripple them, so they can see who's in charge: the people.

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