Secrecy bill fight ‘SA’s first real exercise of democracy’

2013-09-28 09:30

The fight against certain parts of the Protection of State Information Bill has been South Africa’s first real exercise of democracy, MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini has said.

“Everyone in South Africa took their positions. It was the first real exercise of democracy. People came to Parliament and said we don’t want this,” he told the Cape Town Press Club yesterday.

“The challenge for freedom now is against the security operators. There is always conflict between censorship and freedom.”

The controversial bill aims to regulate the classification, protection and dissemination of state information, and will replace the Protection of State Information Act of 1982.

President Jacob Zuma referred the bill back to the legislature two weeks ago.

He said he believed it would not pass constitutional muster and singled out two sections as problematic.

In a letter to National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu, referring the bill back to the legislature, he said he was doing so “insofar as sections of the bill, in particular sections 42 and 45, lack meaning and coherence, consequently are irrational and accordingly unconstitutional”.

The letter prompted speculation about whether the review would be confined to these sections, or whether there was scope for further changes to a bill that has met with more sustained popular protest than any other in the post-apartheid era.

Oriani-Ambrosini said he had often questioned Cecil Burgess, the chairperson of the ad hoc committee which processed the bill, about the need for such a piece of legislation when there had been little publicised threat to state security.

“The ship hasn’t sunk in the past 20 years,” Oriani-Ambrosini said.

According to Oriani-Ambrosini, Burgess replied that there had been many threats, but he refused to elaborate.

Oriani-Ambrosini responded: “Cecil, I’m a Member of Parliament. You want me to pass something on the basis ... of things which are going on which you’re not going to tell us?”

The Inkatha Freedom Party MP said he would do his best to continue the fight against the bill.

He was diagnosed with inoperable stage four lung cancer two days before the so-called secrecy bill debate in April this year.

Oriani-Ambrosini said at the time he had rejected chemotherapy as a treatment option.

He recently returned from Italy, where he was receiving treatment based on a “different science”.

He planned to hold a press conference soon detailing his experience of the treatment.

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