Info bill the stupidest thing - Brink
Hlengiwe Mnguni, News24
Cape Town - The proposed protection of information bill before Parliament is the stupidest thing the present government has done, said South African writer André P Brink at the Cape Town Right2Know Campaign march protesting the bill on Wednesday.
"And that says a lot," he added.
Brink said although he was a "total, total supporter" of the ANC government when it came to power at the fall of apartheid, it had lost his support completely.
He said the government, which says the bill is meant to protect national security, would not win.
"This is a battle where everything is staked against authority, against the Mshini wam people, against everything that the present regime has put in place to break down everything that Mandela stood for," Brink told News24.
He said the contents of the bill, which the Right2Know says will create a society of secrets, was not in line with the ruling party's Freedom Charter and the country's Constitution.
Gagged and ineffective
"I can't see even if this stupid bill is passed, that it will remain on the statute book for long because the Constitutional Court will just have to throw it out."
Brink, who had some of his books banned under apartheid censorship laws, called on all South Africans to add their voices to protests against the bill.
"The danger is just incalculable, because it does affect everybody. It is not just a few people who may be silenced," he said.
Brink said stopping the free flow of information would turn South Africans "into a nation of gagged people who cannot act effectively".
The bill has been criticised by rights groups who say the proposed widening of the type of information the government can classify could lead to arbitrary classification of information and possibly help conceal corruption by government officials.
Advocacy co-ordinator for Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (Arasa) Paula Akugizibwe told News24 that the bill could make it impossible to ensure that leaders were acting responsibly.
Information for change
"All activism is about holding government accountable. Whether it is holding them accountable for HIV treatment or holding them accountable for building schools," she said.
Akugizibwe said the bill would make it difficult to ask questions about how and why decisions are made by government.
"If you don't have that information then you can't ask those questions, you can't get answers and get change."
She said South Africa had set a benchmark for transparency in the region and that it would be a big step back "not just for the country, but for other countries in the region because South Africa may be regarded as a trendsetter if the government is now to remove that transparency".
Poet James Matthews condemned the bill, saying the government was using the same mediums as the oppressive apartheid government by "trying to prevent people from knowing what is the truth; trying to repress information that should be readily made available to all of us in this country".
"Therefore all of (us should) unite and force our will on the will of the present government," the 81-year-old who had some of his work banned and was imprisoned during the apartheid era.
Most bystanders interviewed by News24 along the route of the march said they did not know what the protection of information bill was.
After hearing what the march was about Hilda Mbonjwa from Khayelitsha told News24 that if the concerns of the marchers were legitimate then she was against it as well.
"It's already difficult enough getting information about service delivery in Khayelitsha," she said.
Thembinkosi Ncana, a Mandela Park resident who was part of the march, said it was important that all South Africans joined the fight against the bill.
"Things will be hidden from us, journalists will not be able to publish what they should. We must fight against it," he said.
Other concerns raised by the Right2Know Campaign is the criminalisation of leaking secret information in the public interest and "unusually severe penalties of up to 25 year in prison" which may silence whistleblowers, civil society and lead to self-censorship in journalism.
Right2Know delivered two memorandums to Parliament on Wednesday. The memorandums contained over 20 000 signatures, calling for limitations on the bill, said Hennie van Vuuren who is part of the organising team.
One of the memorandums was signed by members of the public and civil society organisations from within South Africa and abroad. The other contained the signatures of about 500 leading South African writers.
A march was also held in Durban.