Human Rights lawyer George Bizos was quoted yesterday in News24 as saying: "I am concerned that there are attempts to assess the decisions of the courts...It is really dividing the country...We have a strong judiciary. Let us have confidence in that and let us solve this problem". The report by News24 also highlighted the fact that "the so-called secrecy bill risked usurping the powers of the courts by making a proposed review panel the final authority on the correctness of a decision to classify information".
So two things in this news report that stands out as controversial:
1.The Constitutional Court and South Africa's justice system.
2.The so-called Secrecy Bill,if that gets passed.
As it stands,this is South Africa's legal structure in a nutshell:
South Africa has a superior and lower court system with our Constitutional Court being the supreme law of the country and the most powerful court. The Constitutional Court serves to guarantee the basic rights and freedoms of all people in South Africa. Since 1994, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa has been the supreme law. The Constitutional Court consists of 11 judges, 9 men and 2 women. These may serve for a non-renewable term of 12 years, and have to retire at the age of 70.
Known as the most liberal outpost in all of Africa, South Africa needs its judiciary to underpin its social progress. In a country where abortion is legal,same-sex couples marry,a very strong civil society and an independent judiciary,questioning their courts can only undermine country's reputation as the liberal outpost of Africa. No modern society is static,least of all African societies.
South African democracy therefore faces two connected fears:
1.A social conservative backlash,and
2.A lapdog judiciary.
Dissenting opinions coming from the ANC, highlights their own unnerving attitude towards social change in South Africa. This is shorthand for opinions frequently expressed by the ANC elite when they get criticised or when public criticism is counter to the so-called African norms and their traditions. As some of them in government have even said in the past that "South Africa carries the mark of a society that has become too westernised".
It seems that the ANC is hell bent on keeping South Africa rural and patriarchal in their world view of society by wanting to adhere to "traditional" values. They also wants erudite cosmopolitans as Constitutional Court judges and chiefs that are committed to universal standards of human rights and the rule of law and to which all local,political and social customs must adhere to. South Africans are citizens of their country rather than just subjects,which means we must see ourselves and our values reflected in the justice system and on the judicial bench.
The South African Constitution allows for the promoting of the freedom of press and all other media outlets. Professor Jane Duncan of The Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society,School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University wrote:
"The ANC argues that the press are incapable of regulating themselves,and argues that their excessive commercialisation has led to the media's pursuing profit at the expense of basic human rights...The ANC claims that government has led to a more diverse media landscape,and that the print media remain especially resistant to transformation because they are not state-regulated".
In other words had our media been State Regulated,it would've justified a more stringent regulation approach from the Government.
Civil society organisations(CSO's),The South African chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa(MISA-SA),the Southern African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI),finds the ANC government's actions very offensive to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
They say it does not provide for a public interest defence,but that it rather promotes secrecy and self-censorship. Reporting on things such as "national interest","security","state security" and "national security" can be abused by government officials,and who can then inhibit access by public interest on certain issues on the grounds that such information needs to be protected and therefore are not in our best interest.
Accountability and transparency is what South Africa is suppose to be about,not a welcoming acceptance by an ill-informed population. The draconian secrecy bill is aimed at intimidating media outlets that are trying to expose corruption,nepotism and other underhanded activities by the government and its officials in South Africa.
2.Legal Structure of South Africa.
5.The Guardian Newspaper,London.