‘We need to know what our government is up to’

The Democratic Alliance (DA) on Tuesday delivered a petition containing 28 710 signatures protesting the draft Protection of Information Bill to Tuynhuys, President Jacob Zuma’s office at Parliament.

Addressing a crowd of DA supporters following a march to Parliament, DA federal chairperson Wilmot James said: “We need to know what our government is up to, because, if it is doing the wrong thing, we want to say so and demand that it be made right.

“State information is our information, not only the government’s,” he said.

The Constitution protected citizens’ rights to have state information because citizens had ownership by virtue of taxation.

“That is how it should be in a democracy.”

The Promotion of Access to Information Act was passed by Parliament and enacted by former president Thabo Mbeki.

This law spelled out very clearly which circumstances allowed the government to withhold certain classes of information from its citizens.

They had largely to do with clearly delineated matters of state security.

It was, for example, entirely proper to maintain secrecy about the president’s upcoming travel plans.

“It is not, however, a legitimate state secret to know how often the president has travelled over the last year, even where and at what cost,” James said.

Constitutional imperative
Free speech was a constitutional imperative precisely because citizens needed information to make informed political choices about how their leaders governed, and about positions that political parties, reporters and commentators took.

“Free speech is essential to an independently minded and exacting citizenry, the lifeblood of a vibrant and functional democracy.

“Mess with free speech and you mess with our democracy. It is not yours to mess with. You are our humble servants. We are not yours,” he said.

To stubbornly press on with the “Secrecy Bill”, the government was not only arrogant, but also paranoid, he said.

The ANC was moved not by rational concern, but by paranoia about leakers and peddlers of information because of their “pathetic internal squabbles over the spoils of corruption”.

“They want to use state institutions and national laws to cover up and shield citizens from their inability to find a decent direction,” James said.

Meanwhile, ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga described the DA’s march as “puzzling”.

In a statement later on Tuesday, Motshekga’s office said the DA’s decision to march to Parliament in protest against the Bill, which was being processed by a parliamentary committee, was puzzling.

“Having just concluded public hearings on the Bill, Parliament is currently considering views from various sectors of our society to ensure that they form part of the final draft to be presented to the National Assembly sitting for voting.”

The DA had always been, and continued to be, part of all parliamentary forums dealing with the Bill through its representatives in the institution.

“It is unheard of that a political party organises a march against an institution within which it enjoys a significant representation, thereby undermining and pre-empting the very formal process it is party to.

“It verges on the absurd as it is tantamount to MPs marching against themselves,” he said. — Sapa

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday