Opposition group ‘intimidated’

2012-02-17 00:00

CIVIL organisations opposed to the Protection of State Information bill yesterday protested that the Vryheid public hearings into the bill were marred by intimidation.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) yesterday held three public hearings in KZN — one at Mondlo civic hall in Vryheid, another at Harding on the south coast and another at Umlazi in Durban. In Mondlo, two extra tents had to be erected to accommodate people overflowing from the hall.

The hearings were meant to test public opinion on the controversial bill, which was passed by the national assembly in December last year.

Mxolisi Nyuswa, spokesperson for the KZN Right2Know, (R2K) a network of activists, civil society groups, students and faith leaders, said the Vryheid hearing was intimidating for those not in favour of the bill.

“People from NGOs were not given a decent chance to voice their view. Once they had the floor, they were intimidated by the crowd. The chairperson of the hearing (NCOP member Sam Mazosiwe) kept on interjecting before they could finish their statements, while those supporting the bill were allowed to express their views to the end…

“This was definitely not safe and suitable for them, as the general public in attendance were pro the bill,” Nyuswa said.

However in an interview with The Witness after the hearings, Mazosiwe said the hearings were a resounding success and “everyone was given an opportunity to be heard and all the views expressed will be considered in our report”.

Nyuswa however said people still needed to be “work-shopped” on the content of the bill, as those supporting it showed that they still don’t understand what its impact will be once it is passed into law.

As in the introduction of voter education, Nyuswa argued that people needed to be taught about the bill to understand the damage which could emanate from it being passed.

Those opposing the bill said if it was promulgated into law as it is, it would have a negative impact on those intent on exposing corruption.

Others felt that corrupt heads of government departments are likely to declare documents containing their activities as classified state information. Mazosiwe raised his concern that those who said the bill was unconstitutional failed to indicate which sections they deemed to be so. The media came under heavy attack from those supporting the bill, who said society did not depend upon the media to expose corruption as there are Chapter Nine institutions which cater for that purpose.

“Every state needs to protect its privileged information for its survival, so this bill is needed for that purpose,” said Vusi Mdluli of Bhekuzulu. Most of the bill’s supporters made it clear that they were doing so because they supported the ANC government.

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