The ANC's chief whip says the National Press Club's Black Wednesday plan for this week's vote on the secrecy Bill are a senseless distortion of facts
The National Press Club’s (NPC) “Black Tuesday” plans for this week’s vote on the Protection of State Information Bill are a senseless distortion of facts, African National Congress chief whip in Parliament Mathole Motshekga said in a statement on Monday.
“The only result this unfortunate comparison and the planned campaign, in which people are urged to dress in black, will achieve is to dilute the real history of 1977’s “Black Wednesday” and insult the victims of apartheid’s barbaric laws,” Motshekga said in the statement.
The NPC has asked people opposed to the Bill to wear black clothing or a black ribbon or armband to express their opposition to the Bill.
The name of the campaign refers to October 19 1977 when the World, Sunday World and Christian publication Pro Veritas were banned and almost 20 people or organisations were declared banned by the apartheid government.
The name of the campaign has been changed to “Black Tuesday”, the day of the week on which the Bill will be voted on in the National Assembly.
“Let’s tell the government we are all opposed to censorship. It’s crunch time. The nation needs to unite and stop this nonsense,” NPC chairperson Yusuf Abramjee said on its Facebook page.
If the Bill is passed the media will not be able to claim it acted in the pubic interest if it violated or was party to the violation of a law, or published classified information to substantiate a report on, for example, malpractice or corruption in government.
However, Motshekga said comparing the facts of “Black Wednesday” and the intended new law was “not only an irresponsible act of protest but also gravely senseless”.
“The reality of South Africa’s vicious history should teach all of us never to campaign in a manner that trivialises the deep pain and suffering experienced by the majority of our people,” he said.
After going through 123 amendments, the Bill would be voted on in the National Assembly on Tuesday but it was not the end of the road, he said.
It still had to move through the National Council of Provinces before reaching finalisation.
‘Distortion of history’
He said the government had no intention to ban, torture or murder journalists, and the rejection of a public interest defence was in line with international best practice on security in the US, Canada and the UK.
“We believe this is blatantly insensitive and a distortion of history.”
On “Black Wednesday”, editors Percy Qoboza and Aggrey Klaaste were taken to solitary confinement where they spent five months.
According the Sowetan archive, journalists such as Mathatha Tsedu, Joe Tlholoe—who is now the Press Ombudsman—and Don Mattera were detained and after their jail stay, were banned for five years.
Organisations banned included the Beyers Naude’s Christian Institute and the Union of Black Journalists.
“Black Wednesday” followed the death in police detention of black consciousness activist Steve Biko as well as a campaign to resist Bophutatswana becoming a “homeland” independent of South Africa.
Suppressing ‘free expression’
Nobel literature prize winner Nadine Gordimer warned that the Bill will return South Africa to apartheid-era limits on free speech.
The ANC is set to muscle the Bill through Parliament on Tuesday, amid an outcry that it will muzzle whistleblowers and journalists investigating state wrongdoing.
The “ANC is taking South Africa back to the suppression of the free expression of apartheid,” Gordimer said.
Speaking at an 88th birthday celebration on Sunday, the writer and former apartheid critic warned that the Bill went “totally against all ideas of freedom”, the Times reported on Monday.
“People have fought and died to gain the opportunity for a better life which is ruined and dirtied by corruption,” she said.
“The corrupt practices and nepotism that they allow themselves is exposed if we have freedom of expression.”
The ANC is expected to use its majority to approve the Bill after which it will pass to a lower house in Parliament before going to President Jacob Zuma to sign.
The legislation, which replaces an apartheid-era law, would punish anyone holding or disclosing classified material with jail terms of up to 25 years.
Opponents have slammed the Bill’s tough penalties as draconian and want stronger safeguards for whistleblowers and a public interest defence that would argue exposure of classified information is in society’s best interest.—Sapa-AFP
The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.