“It is insulting to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing and investigative journalism…and that makes the state answerable only to the state” – Desmond Tutu
On the 19th October 1977, the apartheid regime banned The World and Weekend World newspapers as well as Pro Veritate – a Christian publication – alongside 19 black organisations and detained scores of critics – that day has been called Black Wednesday ever since.
Slightly more than 3 decades later, we have a sense of déjà vu with the Protection of Information Bill that went to table today.
After mass protests on the 17th of September, and internal squabbles of the ANC, the Bill was pulled on Monday the 19th of September but would have been tabled again on Wednesday the 23rd of November. Yusuf Abramjee, chairman of the National Press Club, issued a statement declaring “Wednesday 23 November Black Wednesday“. Thus an appeal went out to all South Africans to dress or wear a black ribbon or armband – the traditional symbols of mourning – on the day, to show their opposition to the bill.
That would just not do! Abramjee was informed that the bill will be voted on, on Tuesday 22 November.
The office of ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, declared its distaste for the comparison between events in 1977 and today. “The National Press Council’s likening of the scheduled democratic and constitutional process in Parliament this week, in which the draft legislation on the Protection of State Information (Bill) would be put to vote, to the infamous 1977 Black Wednesday, is nothing short of a reckless hyperbole aimed at peddling misinformation and distorting history. The Council’s plans, in which a democratic and open parliamentary process would be declared Black Wednesday by having people dress in black, are tantamount to staging a parody of one of the saddest political events of our history.”
At 14:00 today, the bill went to table with about 120 amendments since September, yet still without a public interest clause which would allow whistle blowers and journalist to disclose information found to be in the public interest. Hence the state can seal, at any given time, any information it so wishes and with a government whose corruption has been exposed time and again, this can be seen as nothing but an investment in self-interest.
It may be true that keeping corruption under cover may not be the primary intention of the so-called Secrecy Bill as it does include clauses that criminalise misuse of the bill to avoid embarrassment. Yet, with no way to demonstrate that abuse this wall can shelter many an evil and woe to anyone who leaks a secret, anyone who takes possession of a secret and anyone who publishes a secret as they will go to jail, without the option of a fine, potentially for up to 25 years!
Even though the Bill still has to be pass through the National Council of Provinces and will, in all probability, also go to the constitutional court, it is without a doubt that, with 229 to 207 votes for passing the bill, this is indeed a black day in our history.
May the pledge of the Honourable Lindiwe Mazibuko (she who was called the Madam’s Tea Lady by Mr. Malema) be the shining beacon of light and may we not stop standing up to be heard until Light shines through for our country and our freedom.
“It should never have come to this. Today is a dark day for our young democracy.
If passed, this Bill will un-stitch the very fabric of our Constitution. It will criminalise the freedoms that so many of our people fought for.
What will you, the members on that side of the House, tell your grandchildren one day? I know you will tell them that you fought for freedom. But will you also tell them you helped to destroy it? Because they will pay the price for your actions today. Let this weigh heavy on your conscience as you cast your vote.
Speaker, whatever happens in this House, we will not give up the fight.
We have fought this Bill from the very first day it was tabled. And we will continue to do whatever it takes to defeat those who want to silence our people. First, we will take the fight to the National Council of Provinces, where we will propose amendments, including a clause to protect those who disclose state information in the public interest.
If the Bill in its current form is passed in that House, we trust that the President will send it back to Parliament. Surely he will see that it is unconstitutional.
But if this Bill is signed into law, I will lead an application to the Constitutional Court to have the Act declared unconstitutional.
In terms of section 80 of the Constitution, the support of one-third of the Members of this House will be enough to send this Bill directly to the Constitutional Court.
I know that my colleagues on the opposition benches will support us. And I believe there are enough ANC MPs with a conscience who will do the right thing. Honourable Members, it is our duty to protect democracy. A Bill that poses a danger to our people’s freedom is before us. Let us vote against it today.
But if it is passed, let the message ring out from this House across South Africa:
The ANC has abandoned the values of its founders exactly 100 years after it was formed.”