The nation, or at least those parts of it that value democracy and freedom, heaved a sigh of relief yesterday. At the eleventh hour, the Protection of State Information Bill was sent back to parliament on the basis that it wouldn’t survive scrutiny in the Constitutional Court. And who sent it back? Zuma himself! Maybe we’d all misjudged him!
Our relief, however, was short lived. It wasn’t sent back because it was an affront to the basic principles of democracy. It was sent back because it contained a couple of typos. Oh, well. Thursday’s announcement doesn’t mark a return to the ideals enshrined in our constitution. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Because maybe it marks something else. A lack of urgency. A slight loss of interest. A Presidential “meh”.
On Monday, something happened that might explain this lackadaisical attitude. The Right2Know Campaign tried to hold a protest outside Luthuli House, but they were allegedly moved along by police, on the basis that Luthuli House was a “temporary national key point”. Brilliant.
The National Key Points Act is an elegant little piece of apartheid legislation. Its original stated intention was to protect key areas of national security, like nuclear power plants and international airports. In the hands of the ANC government, it is currently being used to protect key areas of national security, like President Zuma’s R200 000 000,00 weekend holiday home and tuckshop at Nkandla.
And here’s the beauty of the act; once a place becomes a national key point, it becomes subject to Stalinesque levels of secrecy. And even better than that, the list of national key points is a secret! Someone’s been reading “Catch 22”.
And now the government seems to be kicking things up a notch. Apparently, Luthuli House was declared a temporary Key Point because the President was there. This gives rise to a couple of questions;
If the Presidential entourage has a bad curry, and is forced to make an emergency stop while traveling cross-country the next day, would the public toilets at the Shell Ultra City become a temporary national key point? Would members of the public still be allowed to go for a wee there without endangering national security?
If the President stopped over at the home of a lady friend for an innocent cup of coffee, as he does, would her home become a national key point?
Is the President himself a roving national key point? If so, is he the only one? Are all government ministers roving national key points, making the entire nation a constantly shifting mosaic of secrecy and intrigue? Will it ever be safe to use a public toilet again?
The Ministry of Police put a dampener on things by coming out and denying that there was any such thing as a temporary national key point. We can all relax. Our public restrooms are still safe to use. Or are they?
The legal team from the Ministry of Police is busy looking at the National Key Points Act as we speak. They are busy “refining” it before introducing it to Parliament later this year. Given this government’s apparently overwhelming desire to do its work in the dark, I don’t think any of us should be expecting a victory for openness, honesty, and freedom of speech. Maybe the Luthuli House incident was not an outright error. Maybe it was just a case of a couple of over-eager policemen jumping the gun by a couple of months.
We’ll all just have to wait and see. But I, for one, am going to be working on strengthening my bladder. Cross-country driving might just be a harrowing exercise in self-control in the near future.