ANC parliamentary delegations will meet with tripartite alliance partner Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday to discuss the Protection of State Information Bill.
“South Africa knows we have overcome very important things through dialogue — when the talks stop that when the war begins,” ANC parliamentary spokesperson Moloto Mothapo told the Mail & Guardian.
Mothapo said the two meetings would be vastly different, with a necessary “understanding” to be made with the protector about “ongoing concerns”.
“As a chapter nine institution, the protector can always write submissions to Parliament but they don’t ever issue statements and question the house’s actions,” said Mothapo.
In contrast, Cosatu’s meeting would involve “convincing one another” on the public interest defence.
“We hope to understand where each one is coming from and display the merits of each standpoint,” he said.
Wave of criticism
The secrecy Bill was passed in Parliament in late November under a wave of criticism.
The Bill proposes harsh penalties for journalists and citizens found to be in possession of classified documents as well as harbouring state secrets.
Proposed consequences include prison sentences of up to 25 years, with no mechanism, such as a public interest clause, to challenge the proposed offences.
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.
Both Cosatu and Madonsela have separately expressed concern over the legislation’s passing.
The labour federation vowed to mobilise its two million member support base against the Bill, demanding a public interest defence clause is added.
Cosatu has also threatened to march on the Union Buildings if President Jacob Zuma decides to sign it into law.
Madonsela has handed over submissions to her office to Parliament speaker Max Sisulu, which questioned the proposed legislation’s integrity. The ANC condemned Madonsela for “questioning and threatening to investigate” Parliament’s passing of the Bill.
On Tuesday, Madonsela also met with the South African National Editors’ Forum, who asked her to investigate statements made about the Bill by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
On November 16, Cwele told Parliament that no country in the world would allow a public interest defence mechanism to shield those accused of divulging state secrets.
The ANC will need to employ some serious debate to convince Cosatu, according to the federation’s secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi.
“We’ll go into this meeting with an open mind but we’ll be pursuing our standpoint very strongly — at this stage we are not going to back down on the issue of a public interest defence,” he told the M&G.
If the ANC manages to convince Cosatu, the party still faces opposition to the Bill from within its ranks.
Senior MPs Ben Turok and Gloria Borman face disciplinary action after not towing the party line when the Bill was passed.
Turok left Parliament’s chambers as the vote took place, while Borman abstained from voting.
Both meetings are due to take place at Cosatu House in Braamfontein on Thursday morning.
The passing of the Protection of State Information Bill came as no surprise, raising the threat to media freedom. View our special report.