23 November 2011

National Assembly passes Secrecy Bill

Yesterday, 22 November, the National Assembly passed the Secrecy Bill, despite more than 12 months of campaigning by civil society activists against the Bill.

The Bill passed with 229 votes in favour, 107 votes against and 2 abstentions. Only votes of ANC members were cast in favour of the Bill; all opposition parties voted against the Bill.

The Bill will now proceed to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) where it must also receive a favourable majority vote to ensure its passage into law. While traditionally this process is seen as a rubber-stamping exercise, it is hoped that the huge public opposition to the Bill will encourage members of the NCOP to amend, or preferably, to undertake public consultation, on the Bill.

If the Bill is passed by the NCOP, it must be signed by President Zuma before it can become law. While Zuma has the option of referring the Bill back to the National Assembly for amendment or requesting an opinion from the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the Bill, the behaviour by the ANC in steamrolling the Bill through the National Assembly suggest that Zuma will sign the Bill without amendment.

If the Bill becomes law civil society organisations, unions and opposition political parties alike are poised to challenge the constitutionality of the Bill in the Constitutional Court.

Therefore, while 22 November marks a sad day in South Africa's democracy, the fight is far from over.