ANC narrows definition, scope of info bill

2011-08-22 22:39

Cape Town - The ANC on Monday made good on a promise to drastically restrict the application of the protection of information bill, and also proposed narrowing the grounds for classifying information.

The ruling party ditched an unpopular proposal to pass the new law without a definition of national security. Instead it tabled a rewritten, simplified definition of the concept, which will serve as the only justification for classifying information under the new state secrets law.

It does away with flowery language and lofty notions ridiculed by legal experts. It gives the meaning of national security as the protection of the people of South Africa and the territorial integrity of the Republic against the threat of the use of force, war, terrorism, espionage, violence and sabotage.

This part of the definition was taken almost verbatim from a proposal by prominent media lawyer Dario Milo. His work was in turn based on the Johannesburg Principles, drafted by international law, security and human rights experts in 1995.

However, the ANC also inserted clauses necessitating the protection of the country against "exposure of a state security matter" and "exposure of economic, scientific or technological secrets vital to the republic's stability, security, integrity and development".

The Democratic Alliance regretted the additions, but won a concession from the African National Congress when it agreed to add a sub-clause proposed by the DA. This states explicitly that national security "does not include lawful political activity, advocacy, protest and dissent".

African Christian Democratic Party MP Steve Swart said he felt vindicated that after much argument the ruling party had settled on a proposal he made last year, borrowing Milo's submission.

Economic secrets

"That was my initial proposal broadly speaking."

Swart said the way in which the inclusion of economic and scientific secrets - something the opposition had strongly opposed - had been drafted meant it would only come into play in very limited circumstances.

The opposition heartily welcomed a proposal by the ANC to limit the application of the bill to the intelligence and security services and the police.

This followed a pledge made in June after plans to allow all organs of state - an estimated 1 001 entities - to classify information drew sustained protest from civil society and its alliance partner the Congress of SA Trade Union.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos cautiously welcomed both the narrower definition of national security and the limited application of the legislation.

"My first impression is that it is a much more restricted application and on that score it is a welcome development," he told Sapa.

"Depending on everything else in the act, it is more compliant with the Constitution. It is much closer to what one could be able to live with and what the Constitutional Court might find acceptable. The earlier drafts of the act were clearly unconstitutional."

De Vos said whether or not the bill afforded protection to whistleblowers who published information that was wrongly classified, would also determine whether ultimately it passed constitutional muster.

The ANC was still ruling out a so-called public interest defence that would allow people who revealed state secrets to argue in court that they had done so for the greater good.

Workable compromise

Drafting of the bill was expected to wrap up within weeks, after more than a year of wrangling and more public opposition than any other legislation had attracted since the fall of apartheid.

Opposition parties were increasingly confident the outcome would be a workable compromise.

They however remained concerned about clauses that could send somebody to jail for 20 years for obtaining or communicating state secrets in the reasonable knowledge this could further hostile activity.

At issue was the addition of the phrase "or prejudice the state", which opposition lawmakers said was too wide and open to abuse to muzzle the media.

"This is the clause that is going to be used to lock up journalists," DA MP Dene Smuts said.

Deliberations would continue throughout the week.

Cecil Burgess, chairperson of the committee drafting the bill, urged the deadline for finalising the bill be brought forward by a week to September 15, when Parliament would rise.

  • Neil - 2011-08-22 22:52

    Wow!! Another UNBELIEVABLE promise from the ANC..

      Warslat - 2011-08-23 00:04

      They just need to get it passed in any form. They can tweak it to how they want it later. Best part is they will probably be able to use clauses in the bill to stifle scrutiny and open debate.

      debrakayestylist - 2011-08-23 03:28

      Like "Moeletsi Mbeki FOR President" on Facebook if you want a real government

      tryanything - 2011-08-23 06:44

      I Remember all this sort of law making in the 1960's when I was a kid... Die Swart Gevaar...

      realist03 - 2011-08-23 06:46

      territorial integrity of the Republic against the threat of the use of force, war, terrorism, espionage, violence and sabotage = THE PRESS MAY NOT COMMENT OR LET THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY KNOW,WHEN THERE IS COMPLETE GENOCIDE IN SOUTH AFRICA

      DEVILS SON - 2011-08-23 08:14


      mSholozi - 2011-08-23 10:28

      the ANC promises us, the DA wants us to promise, we want the truth not the DA controulled media

  • nic - 2011-08-22 23:09

    However, the ANC also inserted clauses necessitating the protection of the country against "exposure of a state security matter" and "exposure of economic, scientific or technological secrets vital to the republic's stability, security, integrity and development". Above statement worries me though. I am no legal expert so correct me if I am wrong here. This can be interpreted/bent to nullify all the other changes they have made. This allows for a corrupt person in a powerful enough position to hide their unlawful dealings if it is a big/bad enough to bring the country in disrespect with the rest of the world or its people for that matter. I'm thinking arms deal and whatever else they are trying to hide with this bill Come on... How can anyone agrees to this?

      Frungy - 2011-08-23 04:09

      @nic - The clauses the ANC introduced are very broad, and with the number of ANC fatcats who own huge chunks of major industries it would only be a small matter to say that, under these clauses, it would be okay to classify their dealings on economic grounds, because them being prosecuted could threaten the "economic stability" of South Africa. I also agree that there are always "regulations" released with these, and that these regulations are often at odds with the intent of the original legislation. At the end of the day I think that the state should have no secrets from the public, it's simply unhealthy. Our constitution requires transparency, with no stated limitations, and to publish further legislation that indirectly tries to limit the constitution is simply a round-about way of trying to hamstring the constitution. Honestly what "economic, scientific or technological" secrets could the state have legitimate reasons for keeping? What research are they doing that they don't want the public to know about (we're not talking specifics here, just in broad terms)?

  • nic - 2011-08-22 23:15

    And Steve Swart is a muppet!!! Why on earthy do you want a separate christian party??!!! huh? Not that you getting a lot of votes, but the ones you do get will be way more valuable in a united oposition party. Get over yourself and merge with the DA

  • grant9 - 2011-08-23 01:15

    Why on earth does the country need this bill in the first place? I see it as just a wayto muzzle the press. Watch: everything will be deemed to apply to national security be it arms deals, foreign travel by politicians or tenders secured by Malema.

      Leftyloosy - 2011-08-23 08:12

      Yes we are turning into America.

      Craigr - 2011-08-23 10:01

      The devil is in the "fine print" as they say. Any Maladministration will thus be 'economically sensitive' for the state and thus labled a secret. Problem solved. Media blackout on goverment spending.

  • Yar - 2011-08-23 04:39

    This bill should never become law. It doesn't belong in a civilised democracy.

      tryanything - 2011-08-23 06:46

      No democracy in A frica

  • kingkong - 2011-08-23 05:30

    enough with the info bill there are more pressing matters in the eastern cape where the mother of all corruption starts is some frail care centre that has to close because of funding or dont the politians care about their own elderly ;man this is sad everybody wants to score big on ouy manuvering each other in goverment please help these poor people our senior citizens after all they worked for this country all these years hikona man this is wrong

  • capecrowley - 2011-08-23 06:45

    Credit should be given where it is due. Kudos to the ANC on this one! I call on commentators to resist being axiomatically suspicious and conspiracy-obsessed about every single action emanating from government. It is POSSIBLE that sometimes they will make reasonable decisions, albeit due to pressure from opposition parties and concourt. If we are unable to differentiate between good and bad policy, then they might as well do as they please. If this reasonable law is passed, along with Malema being censured then I would say it is a good week for ANC, and for all South Africans. Perhaps they are finally getting their act together.

      daaivark - 2011-08-23 07:02

      I agree. Sure it is not perfect, and some quite riughtly point out that these things can be bent and "interpreted". But that is the case with any piece of legislation. The real point is whether it will stand up to legal scrutiny at times of possible prosecutions. But it is a major concession, and the fact that a concession is made at all bodes well.

      Umfubi - 2011-08-23 09:56

      My God - an intelligent comment! Welcome, welcome! I must warn you though - any attempt at being balanced on here usually results in comments being 'moderated'...

      Warslat - 2011-08-23 13:20

      Why shouldn't people be suspicious, axiomatically or otherwise? This is legislation that's totally unnecessary. The state already has secrets that are protected under the law, anyone revealing them can be prosecuted under these existing laws. This bill gives far too many people carte blanche power to declare far too many things secret. Of great concern is how harshly anyone revealing them is treated while giving any politician a slap on the wrist for classifying something secret when it shouldn't be. Not all information should be public, but like I already said, there's already means of dealing with these matters. What's wrong with this bill is that there's no real oversight and no real deterrant against abusing the powers this bill gives the government. Given the current track record of our politicians, this bill is basically a massive carpet under which anything embarresing will be the name of national security. After all, any right thinking person who is privvy to this info may be inclined to vote sensibly which is a danger to the ANC government.

      Warslat - 2011-08-23 20:58

      @ Capecrowley, from the context it's used, don't you mean "automatically" suspicious... as opposed to "axiomatically"? If you don't know what words mean, use smaller ones.

  • Ryan Tunney - 2011-08-23 07:13

    Don't fall for this nonsense...this must be rejected outright. There is nothing wrong with the info that the media is exposing. None of it has ever threatened South Africa's security or had a negative affect on the country. This is just a step towards dictatorship. We all know that the ANC never wish to relinquish power...same as Gaddafi. They've already shown their intent on numerous accasions by siding with rogue regimes like that of Zim, Libya and China.

      Matt :-) - 2011-08-23 09:01

      Well look at how they reacted when the WC went from ANC to DA rule...

  • maseratifitt - 2011-08-23 07:23

    Can anyone give us an example where: 1)South Africans suffered because of a leaked secret. 2) South Africans were spared because of a kept secret. Look back over the past 17 years. Look back beyond. We don't want to be a nation beholden to secrets and lies.

      Darter - 2011-08-23 08:10

      Well we wouldn't know because they are exactly that....secrets. Make sense? Look at the engineer at Denel who was arrested for trying to sell state secrets to Israel last year....does that missile technology not belong to the State, and any income from sales would have (will) be absorbed in our economy. However backward you think this country is, there are still secrets (mainly in defence, R&D [csir])that need to be kept...

      Leftyloosy - 2011-08-23 08:26

      1) The Chinese ship carrying weapons destined for Zim was tipped off(High Court ordered that the cargo and the ship not be moved) when the media decided to broadcast the story, the ship set sail before the papers could be served. 2) Well if someone could tell you that then it would not be a secret now would it.

  • gary.dasilva - 2011-08-23 08:58

    Dear ANC destroyer of South Africa - No public interest defence - Then you cant have the Bill passed. Simple Whistle blowers MUST HAVE the fulest protection of the law.

  • Douglas - 2011-08-23 09:24

    I am pleased that the ANC has made concessions to their unconstitutional bill, however the refusal to include a "for the public interest" defence in the bill is something that should be addressed. It is the people of South Africa that should by rights be able to choose what information is and is not classified.

  • amabok - 2011-08-23 09:38

    The cANCer is so power drunk they spend all their time debating a Secrecy Bill while their voters die of starvation. Just another failed African state government.

  • mSholozi - 2011-08-23 10:26

    the fabrications of stories on our great leaders like JZ and JM must stop

      WHITE MAN - 2011-08-23 11:18

      Goh BECK TOE SchOoEL....

      toleranne - 2011-08-23 14:53

      Please provide proof of untrue reports. And why should only the leaders be protected? In a democracy, they are the ones whose actions and statements should be scrutinised most rigorously, and held to account.

  • beicime - 2011-08-23 11:26

    The ANC cannot have a blank cheque. The electorate gave to the ANC a mandate within and existing constitution and the ANC has no right to change that mandate or concentrate more power than that provided for in the constitution.

  • Bankai - 2011-08-23 12:04

    I just hope this Bill is propossed to prevent daily son from publishing kak, like woman gave birth after 18 months to a Tokolosh. at some point we need restrictions to what is publish by the media e.g. a friend of mine was accused by Rapport news paper of being linked to Dewani's murder just because he was invited by the husband on facebook, this news paper came up with stuff we never heard of and looking at that where exactly do we draw the line. At some point the bill is important but somewere is just to protect ANC from the media

      toleranne - 2011-08-23 15:01

      Dear Bankai, that is what the Press Ombudsman and other complaints procedures are for - was a complaint laid? Did you challenge the Son to provide proof of their sensational story? That is what freedom is about - people are free to make their own k#k, as long as it harms no one else. Perhaps you should inform yourself better about the process. This bill is not primarily about media freedom - the problem is that its unjustifiably wide-ranging application and vague language on classifying info meant that it could have seriously impacted on mf - which has to a large extent now been rectified, thank goodness.

  • Andrew - 2011-08-23 12:22

    this is all basically censoship of the media

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