22 November 2011

Opposition to the secrecy bill becomes increasingly vocal

The imminent vote on the secrecy bill before the National Assembly has caused a stir amongst its opponents. It appears that the ANC will use its majority in the National Assembly to push the bill through the house, and this does not sit well with many of the bill's critics.

The National Press Club has lodged a complaint with the Public Protector on the basis that the bill is unconstitutional. The body cites that absence of a public interest defence clause as a violation of the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression.

The Right to Know Campaign (R2K) and its supporting civil society organizations have urged MPs to vote against the bill, and have arranged pickets across South Africa to protest its adoption on 22 November 2011. This day is being referred to as "Black Tuesday", which takes its inspiration from the suppression of media and social organizations that occurred on "Black Wednesday" in 1977.

Some of the additional criticisms put forward by R2K include the fact that the bill would override existing freedom of information legislation, that it criminalizes the possession of classified information, and that the public consultation process promised by the ANC was merely a front which was used to quell dissidence within the party.

The ANC has launched a series of attacks against R2K and other opponents of the bill, suggesting that they are mainly elitist civil society organizations or that they are unpatriotic. Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, has gone so far as to suggest that protestors opposing the bill's adoption are the agents of foreign spies.

It is not merely civil society organizations who oppose the bill's passage. Several ANC stalwarts have also spoken out against the bill, as well as the ANC's behaviour during the process leading up to the vote.

Former Minister of State Security, Ronnie Kasrils, has publicly derided Minister Cwele's comments that suggested foreign spies had infiltrated the civil society organizations that opposed the bill. He further commented that the bill would exacerbate the government's "mindset already noted for excessive secrecy, exaggerated fears and paranoia."

The South African Municipal Workers' Union has declared in a recent press release that that the bill is not ready to be signed into law on the basis that it could be used as a tool that would "negatively impact the fight against corruption".

Nobel laureate, Nadine Gordimer, strongly condemned the ANC's plans to adopt the bill as well, saying that it was "taking South Africa beyond apartheid" and that it goes "totally against all ideas of freedom."