War of words erupts at secrecy bill hearings

2012-02-17 08:17

Described by the chairperson as the most vibrant he had encountered, the public hearings on the Protection of State Information Bill held in Umlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, yesterday turned into a war of words between generations.

While an overwhelming majority of those in favour of the bill were members of the ANC, the about 600-strong audience was largely made up of journalism students who were bused in from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of South Africa – all opposed to the bill.

First-year student at DUT Samkelo Maseko said under the proposed bill, he was concerned that as a future journalist he wouldn’t have the freedom to conduct his work without interference.

“This is basically taking us back to the apartheid era. What is lacking with our government is leadership. Our country is run by families like the Guptas. Work for the people,” said Maseko to applause from the youth.

Maseko later told City Press that attending the hearings had been their initiative as students. He said they requested transport from their institution, adding that their views had not been fed to them by any political party as comments had suggested during the hearing.

Another student questioned why “all of a sudden” the government was interested in protecting information against the backdrop of high-profile politicians being investigated.

A speaker who gave his name as Joe said the bill was in line with the Constitution.

“The bill is nothing new. It is something already guided by our Constitution. The bill seeks to defend state interest more than public interest. But if we have such an uninformed youth and a youth of this calibre then we are in trouble,” he said, also to applause.

Papi Tau, who chaired the proceedings, clearly had difficulty controlling the two factions, who ridiculed and booed a speaker who made a point they did not agree with. Members of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature present were not exempt from these outbursts.

While Tau described the hearings as among the most vibrant he had encountered, he later told City Press that at times this hindered the committee from following the arguments presented.

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