ANC MPs ordered to National Assembly
Cape Town - The ANC has ordered all 264 of its Members of Parliament (MPs) to make sure that they are in the National Assembly at 14:00 on Tuesday to vote in favour of the protection of state information bill.
This as outrage mounted at government's intention to pass the controversial bill.
Several sources have told Beeld that the ANC MPs will have no choice but to vote in favour of the bill.
The votes will be "checked" afterwards and those who don't vote along party lines will be "in big trouble".
"There has been extra pressure on all the MPs to be there - it's expected of all of them to vote in support of the bill," an informed source said.
Another source said there would be no room for a conscience vote and that the ANC wants to use its majority in the National Assembly to pass the bill.
ANC caucus spokesperson Moloto Mothapo confirmed that Tuesday's session was compulsory.
With regard to a conscience vote, Mothapo said the MPs did not represent themselves, but the party.
The bill encountered a wall of opposition when it was first introduced, with critics calling it a return to apartheid-era repression.
Critics also argue that the bill is at odds with the progressive underpinnings of Protection of Access to Information Act.
The wave of opposition to the contentious piece of proposed legislation gained momentum on Monday, with various groups preparing to stage protests, and a call for from the National Press Club (NPC) for all those opposed to the bill to wear black clothing or a black ribbon or armband in a show of solidarity.
Members of the media and the public are expected to turn up at Parliament and at the ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg wearing black to show their opposition to the bill.
The campaign refers to "Black Wednesday" on October 19 1977 when The World, Sunday World and Christian publication Pro Veritas were banned and almost 20 people or organisations were declared banned by the apartheid government.
"Let's tell the government we are all opposed to censorship. It's crunch time. The nation needs to unite and stop this nonsense," NPC chairperson Yusuf Abramjee said on its Facebook page.
If the bill is passed the media will not be able to claim it acted in the public interest if it violated or was party to the violation of a law, or published classified information to substantiate a report on, for example, malpractice or corruption in government.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has added her voice to the argument too, having written to Speaker Max Sisulu to raise her concerns regarding public complaints she received on the bill, a City Press report says.
According to Madonsela's spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi, she decided if the bill was passed into law without the recommended changes she would ask President Jacob Zuma to intervene, the report says.
"She will do all she can to have the letter sent to the speaker before the vote takes place tomorrow [on Tuesday]. But if the bill is passed unaltered then she will write to the president raising the clauses on public interest defence," said Masibi.
Fight against corruption
The SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) called for action to ensure the bill did not become law.
In a statement, Samwu said it was concerned that the bill would disadvantage whistle blowers and workers "who are fighting corruption tooth and nail".
"The bill is not ready to be signed into law and is set to negatively impact the noble fight against corruption," said Samwu.
"Samwu has been in the forefront of fighting corruption at municipal level, and long before it was politically acceptable to do so."
If the bill became law, it would not only enable a whole range of municipal documents to be classified as secret, but would also serve to protect those who were "misusing their positions for private and nefarious gain".
This was the battle that all Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliates should engage in.
"We are calling on all Cosatu affiliates to act to ensure that the secrecy bill does not become law and that this should be done in the interest of the public and in the interest of enhancing service delivery to communities," Samwu said.
Constitutional court fight
Various rights organisations, interest groups, opposition parties and Cosatu have threatened to fight the proposed act in the Constitutional Court.
AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets said the organisation had renewed its appeal to President Zuma to refer the bill to the ConCourt for an order as to its constitutionality before it was passed.
AfriForum had already instructed a senior advocate specialising in media law to draw up a legal opinion on the bill's constitutionality.
"There are several reasons why the bill will not pass the test of constitutionality," said Roets.
These included that the bill was, as a whole, vague, complex, and difficult to understand, he said in a statement.
Among other things, the criteria for classifying information were vague and could therefore be applied inconsistently.
They left room for inconsistency in decision-making on the classification of information and the declassification of secret information.
"If this bill is passed, this protection will be practically impossible without a free press and access to information; any claims that South Africa is a healthy democracy will be void of credibility," he said.