Pretoria High Court battle to view secret documents

Demand for access to “secret” documents by the South African History Archive Trust could result in a mammoth legal battle in the Pretoria High Court.

The Justice Department is strongly defending the non-disclosure of the 34 boxes containing sensitive Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documentation.

The outcome, it is claimed, could “materially jeopardise the economic interests or financial welfare of the Republic or could jeopardise the ability of the government to manage the economy of the Republic effectively in the best interest of the Republic”.

On Wednesday, the High Court granted an indefinite postponement to the government in response to an application filed by the Trust in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The Trust, established to collect materials of historical interest with particular reference to the struggle against apartheid, has been battling since May 2002 to gain access to the papers.

Papers submitted to the court revealed that justice officials initially claimed the documents had been lost after their hand over to the then Justice Minister Dullah Omar in April 1999.

When they were eventually traced, the department allowed only partial access to 198 documents.

The justice department continued to refuse access to 296 “classified” documents and 512 other documents that still had to go through the classification process—many of which also had to be translated into English.

The court heard that most of the “sensitive” documents related to chemical and biological warfare. Many of which entered the public domain during the highly publicised Wouter Basson trial.

But there are also other documents—many in Swedish—relating to the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, the Dulcie September case and files relating to the Steyn Commission.

The court, citing the sensitivity of the documents, decided to postpone the hearing indefinitely.

Showing his unhappiness with the decision, the Trust’s deputy director Sello Hatang, said in court papers that the classification process was not only wrong in law by also not in accordance with the Access to Information Act.

He accused the justice department of telling “shameless lies” and purposefully trying to mislead the Trust. - Sapa

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