By Lindokuhle Mnisi
“Press freedom will never be under threat in South Africa for as long as the ANC is the majority party” Nelson Mandela.
The South African Constitution is yet facing another threat of being destroyed by the very same people who created it (SA ruling party, ANC). ANC has been up trying to implement a BILL that intends to regulate the classification of state information, protection and dissemination of state information, weighing state interests up against transparency and freedom of expression. That is how the ANC came up with the Protection of State Information BILL which is commonly referred to as Secrecy BILL.
This legislation has resulted to a whole lot of confusions and controversy as it contradicts with Section two of the South African Constitution, (BILL OF RIGHTS). This attack to the media by the government doesn’t only infringe in the media’s rights but to the citizen’s rights too. While the media is denied access to information; its freedom of expression, freedom of speech and rights of the press are challenged, the citizens suffers the denial of their right to know and be informed. It is their rights that were acknowledged by the ANC when it got in power in 1994 and when the current constitution was drafted in 2006. The BILL was not thoroughly checked for its accuracy and transparency, I still ask my self how it passed through the National Assembly yesterday (22 November 2011) when 229 MPs voted in support and 107 were against and 2 abstained. Mandela said in his quotes that “Press freedom will never be under threat in South Africa for as long as the ANC is the majority party” but what is happening now? Now that he is not in parliament, they do as they please.
The concern here is that the ANC want so severely to turn its back against the voters. The very same people who voted for them are now facing hardships and censorship. Looking at the people in the rural areas, they are always bound to abide by any legislation that is proposed in the Parliament. They are not granted the right to raise their views, to express their sentiments and grievances. Decisions are taken on their behalf, because they only exist during voting times. Yet these laws affect them in one way or the other. As a rural home boy I can assure you that life is not balanced amongst all South Africans and yet not fair, segregation still survive even 17years after Apartheid was defeated. People in the rural remain deprived in every aspect of life. Now my biggest concern in this case is that they don’t come to us to explain the significance of these laws they always lambast us with. In hospitals and public clinics we will be denied answers to any question we will be having.
If a patient dies suspiciously, all whistleblowers will be afraid to expose while the employees will just say “this is state information”. In police stations, dockets will go missing unjustifiably and it will be state information. The councilors will misuse money and again no one will be doing anything to expose that. In the rural we live in destitute and no body does anything about that. We are far form information already; this BILL will make things worse. We don’t have sufficient facilities but now that we cant say anything about that. Who is going to take care of this? Who is going to come and listen to the sentiments in the rural and explain to the government when journalists will be living under threat? The government doesn’t come to us so we sometimes depend on journalists who “sometimes” try to come listen to us. They just abandoned us to the Chief who does nothing to empower our lives.
South Africa is going down. This started unnoticeably with the RICA act; RICA denies us the right of privacy. Every call we make is recorded and listened to by strangers. We are no longer entitled to our own constitutional right (right of privacy), Now there comes the so called Protection of State information Bill, this law affords the Government the right of privacy and keeping secrets. The government wants to remain superior while voters stay inferior. This is just another form of trying to incubate corruption. They argue saying they are trying to fight against irresponsible reporting amongst journalists but in reality they are in a mission of implementing laws that will cover up the corrupt officials within the ruling party.
Everything that happens in our country should be exposed immediately so that people can start planning on how they can drive this to a better country. I got surprised when doing my random interviews and one of my fellow journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology said “Exposing everything about our Government portrays SA negatively to the international countries” he added by saying “the weaknesses of the country should be protected to maintain it’s image” I was flabbergasted looking at the fact that we, voters, should be denied access to information to benefit the reputation of the government who doesn’t consider our needs. The very same international countries facilitated the distraction of Apartheid now they shouldn’t be aware is happening. Sometimes I feel like the country is going back to Apartheid but this time around the OPPRESSED BECOMES THE OPPRESSOR.
In the economic perspective, these laws are a grim threat to the international investors. Where there is a confusion of laws you will never see investors, and that jeopardize the SA Economy.
Maybe I’m being too broad with this but the point here is that this Protection of State Information BILL is poisonous for our country. It breaks us apart, not fair and logically impracticable. The fines are not fair to the journalists and to the citizens. Being found in position with information that is declared “classified” that person faces chances of being jailed for about 5 to 20 years. That is too harsh. Where is the future of journalism, when journalists are censored then who is supposed to inform the public? Civil Societies, Right2Know campaign, Political parties and other citizens slams the BILL and are still up in the fight against this it. DA leader Helen Zille raised her views saying “The BILL has been reported to the Constitutional Court and that is where it will be demolished”
It is still going to pass through the National Council of Provinces before being signed officially by the president, Jacob Zuma. But it’s clear that he is going to be in favor with it.
Concerns from the SANEF are that if they can change and add at least some clauses in the BILL more specially the Public Interest defense clause. Journalists should have a defense at least.