The Protection of Information Bill currently in Parliament will set South Africa back in terms of freedom of information, an African Union (AU) special rapporteur said on Wednesday.
“If we pass the present Bill, it will undo the good work the Republic of South Africa has done to ensure freedom of information,” said Pansy Tlakula, the AU’s special rapporteur for media and freedom of expression.
Tlakula was speaking at the launch of the Gauteng branch of the Right2Know campaign.
Freedom of Expression Network coordinator Siphiwe Segodi said the campaign would explain to communities why the Protection of Information Bill was a threat.
“It’s not just journalists, but activists who are fighting for service delivery,” said Segodi. “Its important that we continue fighting on the community level.”
Meanwhile, South African writer Andre Brink believes the ANC’s proposed media appeals tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill showed “apocalyptic arrogance”.
“Twenty years ago the most famous prisoner in the world, Nelson Mandela, walked out of jail and began the process of leading his people to democracy,” Brink wrote for the New York Times on September 11.
“Today, that new South Africa faces its starkest challenge yet in the form of two pieces of anti-press legislation that would make even the most authoritarian government proud,” continued the author of novels such as Dry White Season and Looking on Darkness.
He said the euphoria surrounding the release of Mandela and the new South Africa began to erode soon after he left office.
In the face of corruption and abuse of power, the right of the press and the people to express themselves were offered as a remedy, but that was eroding. It was seen with former president Thabo Mbeki, and current President Jacob Zuma had ushered in “a new kind of silence”.
“His proposed legislation betrays a dangerous attitude toward the word, written or spoken. It has been said that the prime function of the word is to interrogate silence; but if silence becomes sequestered beyond the reach of words, of language, of the press, of literature, that space becomes inhabited by lies and distortions, pretences and subterfuges and inadequacies of all kinds.”
He believed the proposals recalled the “worst of the apartheid regime”.– Sapa