Editorial: Crude implements of censorship


Hysteria and paranoia. That is what leaders of the ANC and the SACP accuse the press of when concerns about threats to freedom of speech are raised.

Insult laws are the resort of insecure and megalomaniac leaders around the world. (Rogan Ward, M&G)

"We struggled for your freedom. We will never turn back on that," they say as they press for draconian secrecy legislation and media regulation.

Most recently, the presidency said Jacob Zuma had dropped his ­lawsuit against the cartoonist Zapiro because he believed in freedom of speech.

There can be no more fudging, however. By declaring his support for laws to protect Zuma against insult, SACP chief Blade Nzimande has made it clear that on the commanding heights of the alliance, and in Cabinet, the president's allies are grasping at the crudest implements of censorship.

Insult laws are the resort of insecure and megalomaniac leaders around the world, shields against the democratic scrutiny and criticism that are the only durable guarantor of respect. The Protection of State Information Bill is a subtle instrument, indeed, by comparison.

Just as worrying is Nzimande's invocation of race, and the "disrespect" shown by whites as the rationale for a law that would rob all South Africans of a basic right. It is shameful that he should pretend to be concerned about social cohesion while pursuing a strategy of racial polarisation.

The SACP, of course, has been in the vanguard of calls for a media appeals tribunal and tough secrecy laws, and their extraordinary zeal to protect Zuma stands in stark contrast to the disrespect they showed for the president's office when it was occupied by Thabo Mbeki.

Their approach, Lenin via Stalin, is clearly more about power than it is about principle. Perhaps we should thank Nzimande, then, for clearing up any remaining confusion.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has already protested on Twitter that insult laws will "take us down the Zimbabwe route".

Can we hear an amen from the ANC?

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