Two wrongs don’t make a right

2011-12-03 10:36

Protesting against the Protection of State Information Bill is the new black for those of us who deal with ink by the barrel.

It all gained momentum again when the bill was passed by the ANC majority in the National Assembly almost two weeks ago. And just in case the MPs didn’t get the drama and dust we kicked up the first time, media bosses declared that we would do it again on the bill’s one-week anniversary on Tuesday.

This one has gone the way all good campaigns should go. It has momentum, effective branding (“Black Tuesday”) and strong visual effects (duct-taped lips and black clothes).

But unusually, nothing could move me to be part of it all.

Admittedly, I wore a black cardigan on the day of the National Assembly vote because, like the ANC MPs who had to press the “yes” button on the day, I felt it would be treacherous to break ranks. That’s how it goes in a battle.

When the campaign was repeated on Tuesday, though, I did a Dene Smuts and deliberately avoided black clothes. Unlike her, I didn’t have a bright, flame-of-liberty orange blouse, but I quietly cherished her sentiment of clear, informed thinking about the bill. She should know – she was on the ad hoc committee dealing with it.

Besides, the self-indulgence that we as journalists are prone to, was beginning to show in these protests.

Quite a few fellows of my craft shared the gatvolness.

From the start of this bill, my reluctance to join in the clamour puzzled me. Such a law could affect my work, and could be wrongly used to silence whistleblowers. Still, I couldn’t get myself to pick up placard and duct tape and march on Parliament and Luthuli House.

This is the same me who almost 20 years ago would seek out the anti-government rallies in town, despite a teacher’s admonition that mixing with crowds of angry blacks wasn’t good for innocent white girls.

So why not now, when our present lawmakers have been trying their utmost to outdo the former government in the proudly paranoid stakes?

The current protests have quite a bit of struggle street cred. The toyi toyi steps of many journalists at the spearhead of this campaign date back to then, and duct tape sold well among progressive hacks at the time.

But that was then, when those who wanted more openness were victims of an undemocratic and illegitimate system. Not so now. Our new rulers might at times have Nationalist Party tendencies, but the constitutional system by which we’re governed was agreed to and voted for by the majority of our citizens.

We are no longer victims of tyranny, even though some of those mournfully black-clad figures opposed to the info bill would make you believe we are.

Political miracles have resulted from this underdog strategy for people like President Jacob Zuma and, to some extent, Julius Malema, but it doesn’t translate for hacks. We only look self-obsessed and spoilt, like a kid crying over a lolly with two in its mouth.

In fact, this victim behaviour only seems to push the ANC further into bully mode. The playground-like jeers at editors by ANC MPs on the day of the info bill vote have been well-recorded.

Some even think it’s a war – just look at the way the ANC has set up laager, or listen to National Press Club chairperson Yusuf Abramjee, who explicitly said “we will declare war – a peaceful war – if we have to”.

But the point of a war is to shoot each other down, and that’s not what we want in a constitutional democracy.

Let’s talk, let’s use our power to lobby at the National Council of Provinces. If this fails, let’s resort to the Constitutional Court or to civil disobedience. Let’s strip off the black clothes and get on with it.

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