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.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs