The ANC parliamentary caucus on Wednesday sharply criticised the opposition Democratic Alliance’s plan to muster support against the controversial Protection of State Information Bill — days after it called for broader societal debate.
The DA on Tuesday unveiled an “e-mobilisation” campaign aimed at halting the Bill from being passed into law in its current form.
The drive called on South Africans to sign a DA petition against the Bill being passing into law, oppose the contentious legislation by signing and sending a pre-authored letter to President Jacob Zuma or to voice concerns via the presidential hotline.
The DA also called on South Africans to organise flash mobs of 15 people or less in public places to protest against the Bill.
“The party’s campaign is not only unhelpful to the current parliamentary process on the Protection of State Information Bill but a serious affront to the intelligence of South Africans. Encouraging people to merely parrot a few party lines, without offering any specific suggestion, is a typically condescending and supremacist attitude the DA normally takes when relating to people,” said ANC parliamentary caucus spokesperson Moloto Mothapo.
The controversial secrecy Bill was passed in Parliament on November 22 and proposes harsh penalties for journalists and citizens found to be in possession of classified documents or harbouring state secrets.
Proposed consequences include prison sentences of up to 25 years with no mechanism to challenge the proposed offences, such as a public interest clause.
In its current form, the legislation will see ordinary citizens and journalists treated as foreign spies if found to be in possession of information deemed to be a state secret.
Mothapo said the DA’s campaign was an unnecessary interference.
“Flooding the Presidency’s inbox and hotline with chain emails and calls which say ‘do not sign the Bill’ only serve the DA’s agenda of jamming the Presidency’s important public service channels. Unless specific proposals on the Bill are made and motivated in the process provided for by the NCOP [National Council of Provinces], such a strategy is bound to achieve nothing,” he said.
DA leader Helen Zille’s spokesperson Pierre-Charl du Preez told the Mail & Guardian the party is merely trying to engage all South Africans on the apparent perils of the Bill.
“This is our method of showing the President that many South Africans are vehemently opposed to the Bill. The engagement the ANC has suggested is a mere faade and they’re not backtracking on their views. Our campaign is about listening to people and offering them a platform to express their thoughts,” du Preez said.
The ANC’s comments come days after it met with the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) and Media Monitoring Africa in Sandton to discuss on-going concerns relating to the Bill — where all parties stressed the importance of on-going engagement on the issue.
Sanef’s media freedom chairperson Nic Dawes maintains all citizens, regardless of political affiliation, should be able to purvey their opinions as they see fit.
“South Africans from all sectors of society and widely differing political views have serious concerns about the Bill and what it means for this country. They are looking to make their voices heard and in essence that is the nature of an open and democratic society,” Dawes said.
The Bill now finds itself in the NCOP, where it will be either ratified, rejected or hear suggested modifications of it.
The NCOP ad hoc committee dealing with the Bill met for the first time on Wednesday and announced it would solicit the views of “ordinary” South Africans in deciding on the touchy legislation.
Johannes Tau has been appointed as the chairperson and was unanimously supported by all political parties.
Tau, who is also the house chairperson responsible for committees and oversight in the NCOP, joined Parliament in 2004.
“It would be our interest to ensure that whatever product that we arrive at as the NCOP is a product that is understood by ordinary South Africans,” said Tau.
The committee is scheduled to wrap up its business by April 2012.