Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Shout about the ‘Secrecy Bill’

The decision by ANC MPs, no doubt firmly prodded by Luthuli House and the state security apparatus, to force through Parliament draconian, anti-democratic secrecy laws marks a striking retreat from South Africa’s post-1994 legislative tradition.

Parliament has produced an extraordinary volume of new legislation in the past 17 years as a succession of democratic parliaments has swept away the apartheid legacy and built a modern, progressive legal framework. Despite the overwhelming dominance of the ANC and some pretty terrible draft Bills that had strong backing from the majority party when first introduced, very few truly dangerous or flawed laws have made it on to the statue books.

The dissolution of the Scorpions, now reversed by the Constitutional Court, is the exception that proves the rule, but the governing party could have used its large majority far more crudely than it has.

There are various reasons for this. One is that there is a genuine willingness to learn from the parliamentary process and to correct errors and unforeseen consequences introduced in drafting. Another is that the top ANC leadership is responsive to pressure from key stakeholders — albeit not often from opposition parties.

That is why Thabo Mbeki withdrew controversial proposals to restructure the judiciary in 2005 and why the new Companies Act, a well-intentioned but poorly written overhaul, could be so thoroughly tidied up before its final introduction. This law-making process, often noisy and messy, but ultimately productive, is a too-little celebrated success. So why is it being ignored in the rush to pass the Protection of Information Bill?

ANC members of the ad hoc committee on the Bill, led by chairperson Cecil Burgess and his right-hand-man Lluwellyn Landers, have now made it clear that no further debate is to be brooked. They will vote clause by clause and the most pernicious features of the government’s original draft will pass through to the National Assembly and on to President Jacob Zuma’s desk.

The broad remit of the proposed law, which covers state institutions ranging from the Johannesburg Zoo to the National Intelligence Agency remains intact. So does the criminalisation of whistle-blowing and the publication of leaked documents, not to mention measures that force unprecedented secrecy on our courts.

Why isn’t the ANC listening? It may be that there is no natural constituency for freedom of information, or rather that that constituency fails truly to grasp the urgency of the issue. Cosatu and its affiliates threaten to strike for wages, or against the Municipal Systems Bill, but they offer only token resistance to this assault on workers’ interests. The best business can manage is an occasional word of criticism. Neither cares enough to spend political capital.

That leaves the media and the Right2Know coalition with plenty of activist vigour and precious few big levers left to pull.

The Constitutional Court may yet shoot down the legislation, but it is time we stopped entrusting all the most crucial battles to the courts. We need you, on the streets, in the boardrooms and in the backrooms, making some noise. It is not too late to stop the “Secrecy Bill”.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Family wants clarity on SANDF soldier killed in friendly fire...

Corporal Simanga Khuselo join the peacekeeping mission in the DRC to save money to build his family a home

SA soldiers have been fighting in a distant land for...

Troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001 as part of the UN peacekeeping mission that became an offensive against rebels

More top stories

Family wants clarity on SANDF soldier killed in friendly fire...

Corporal Simanga Khuselo join the peacekeeping mission in the DRC to save money to build his family a home

SA soldiers have been fighting in a distant land for...

Troops were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2001 as part of the UN peacekeeping mission that became an offensive against rebels

UK red list will hit South African tourism hard

More than 430 000 British tourists visited South Africa in 2019 but this dropped by 97% last year because of Covid-19

Shoprite among firms that failed in Africa, Europe, Australia

Corporate South Africa is feeling the Covid-19 pinch. But is there space for growth domestically?
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×