'Secrecy bill' a step backwards

2011-09-17 07:43

Cape Town - Critics call it "the secrecy bill". And it comes at a time when several African countries are adopting promising new legislation on access to information.

But campaigners say South Africa's draft protection of information bill represents a step backwards.

Intended to replace an apartheid-era law on official secrets, the bill has faced severe criticism from opposition parties, journalists and ordinary citizens.

They have challenged the broad powers initially granted government to classify information as secret and a vague definition of "national interest" that justifies classification.

Under sustained public pressure, the government heavily revised the bill, but campaigners remain opposed to the lack of a public interest defence for disclosing secret information and the retention of draconian penalties for even possessing information deemed sensitive.

The bill stipulates that jail sentences of up to 15 years will be handed to anyone who possesses information relating in any way to any aspect of the security services. It also proposes jail sentences of as long as 25 years for anyone accessing classified information.

"Even though the committee added limited whistleblower protections, many other clauses remain under which they could be prosecuted," says Sithembile Mbete, a member of Right2Know Campaign, a civil society coalition created to oppose the bill.

On Saturday, the campaign will march to parliament in Cape Town in protest; a candlelight vigil is planned for September 20, the night before the bill is expected to be tabled in the legislature.

Elsewhere on the continent, there are positive signals that governments are embracing principles of freer access to information.

Nigeria adopted a progressive freedom of information law in 2010; Uganda passed an Access to Information Act in 2005 and in 2010 the country debated the whistle blowers protection bill 2010, which aimed to create an enabling environment for citizens to freely disclose information on corrupt or improper conduct in public and private sectors.

Access to information

In Kenya, activists and lawyers are pushing government departments to bring in changes to comply with its new constitution, which grants citizens access to information held by the state.

Paul Waihenya, a journalist based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, says the new constitution's provisions on access to information represent a giant leap forward by the government in terms of transparency and accountability.

But he points to a recent instruction from the ministry of internal security warning local authorities against speaking to the media, after a local official in the north told the press about the severe famine gripping parts of the country.

"The interdiction move against the chief who gave [the press] information about his community is a reminder that this right to access information is not [yet] absolute," he told IPS.

Other observers say it is still impossible to get vital details of public finances or the release of official reports into corruption investigations.

Court action has been launched to challenge delayed responses to access to information requests as well as to fees that are an obstacle to ordinary citizens' access to information such as land ownership records and vehicle registrations.

But Laura Neuman, project manager for the Carter Centre's Access to Information Project, sees signs of progress on the continent. She points to the central role played by Liberian civil society - actively supported by her centre - in the drafting of that country's new Freedom of Information Act.

She told IPS by phone from Washington that this engagement will help to ensure that the legislation will have positive impacts in ordinary people's lives.

"It's a myth to think these are laws for the media or the elite, because frankly those groups already have access to information," she says.

"We have seen [access to information laws] used in transformative ways all over the world.

"We've seen people use it to promote their educational rights in various countries. We've seen it used around health care. We've seen it used to protect children in orphanages. There've been hosts of great uses of the right to information to protect the environment," Neuman said.


She says an essential component of expanding rights is to establish processes by which governments provide information - and where they fail, to give citizens a clear and accessible way to demand it.

It is ironic that South Africa is moving in precisely the opposite direction.

"The pending enactment of the protection of information bill means South Africa has lost its leadership on matters of advancing the right to information on the African continent," says Mukelani Dimba of the Open Democracy Advice Centre in Cape Town.

"In the decade since the adoption of South Africa's freedom of information (FOI) law, the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), South Africa had been an important reference point for other countries on the continent to draw lessons from regarding the operationalisation of the right of access to information in the context of a developing African country," he says.

Dimba says good legislation has not been matched by implementation. The Right2Know Campaign's Mbete agrees.

"The problem is that in many ways PAIA hasn't been quite functional and the implementation of the act has been problematic," Mbete says.

"The majority of requests for information actually go unanswered, which is effectively to refuse them.

"And there's been no independent appeal mechanism created in terms of PAIA, so the only way to dispute a denial of access or refusal to give information is to go to the court which is a mechanism that is not available to most South Africans."

  • leonard - 2011-09-17 07:59

    Zuma has cleverly arranged the defence force,police,judiciary and parliament into his "back pocket".The ANC now have unfettered movement of all that is bad through this new(soon to be passed) law and we the public will never have information pertaining to what ultimately affects us.Shame on you all ANC.What else do you have to hide.

      Spyker May - 2011-09-17 08:51

      The 'Corruption Protection Bill' is the post-Polokwane-'07 fascist black nationalist regime's one foot over the abyss. SA's emphatic collapse is merely a matter of time. Unless you are contempt to have your children and theirs, living from hand-to-mouth in a Zimbabwe-like squalor, where they will be coerced into 'un-education', constructively excluded from the economy and/or forced to slave under those who are effectively illiterate (despite being 'handed' qualification for votes), greater chance of being raped, robbed and/or slaughtered, before they reach the end of their thirties - if they do not die of disease before then in any event - NOW IS THE TIME FOR THE SUITCASE OR THE SWORD. It is time to pack up and run or to prepare yourself for physical action. It is time that civilised SAcans approach the UN and attain a mandate for physical action - as eg in Libya.

      Servaas - 2011-09-17 09:48

      "In Kenya, activists and lawyers are pushing government departments to bring in changes to comply with its new constitution, which grants citizens access to information held by the state." Told you guys countless times Kenya is outgrowing SA and the corrupt officials here are dealt with unlike SA. The Anc lead government in SA is a disgrace. Elke hond kry sy dag, maar nie in SA nie.

      letsee - 2011-09-17 10:30

      So much for transparent democeacy. It is obvious that the ANC wants to "control" the democracy making a mokery of it and working in its favor. As a British someone said, the ANC is implementing strategies and policies like the apartheid era NP did.

      Geo Farmer - 2011-09-17 11:57

      In four days, the National Assembly could pass a secrecy bill that would undermine South Africa's democracy and Constitution. But the four Chief Whips can stop it: if enough of us urgently join this call to kill this regressive bill, they could think twice about pushing it through. Send an urgent message now to say no to the secrecy law! the secrecy bill/?vl

      Yislaaik - 2011-09-18 14:59

      Geo Farmer, I went to do that but it says the link does not work. Zuma inc. involved there too? I got 100 people to sign a petition (on crime) once and when I sent it back to the email address, I was told the email address was illegal. Therefore, it did exist but had been blocked.

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:15

      Geo Farmer: " the secrecy bill/?vl" Link broken!!!

  • Blikskottel - 2011-09-17 08:08

    Biils and acts are for legal persons. We natural persons, aka humans, have a sovereign right and duty to do what is moral and good and thus can never be bound my evil acts, bills or statutes. Common law is our guideline and jurisdiction and we should always stand on that right.

      FM150 - 2011-09-17 15:30

      Unfortunatly the common law is last in line when it comes to legal terms!

  • Karpos - 2011-09-17 08:24

    What is the ANC hiding and what are they afraid of being exposed?

      Nogeen - 2011-09-17 08:29

      Wonder jy nog?

  • solly - 2011-09-17 08:40

    We, the people of South AFrica have the right to know what is going on and have the right to have access to information.. This is the democratic government that has been voted for and it should represent open and honest government, that has the people's rights at interest. What is happening now is a blatant disregard for the democratic rights of the people of South Africa. It merely a smoke screen where we will eventually be pushed into a state of autocracy and anrchism, driven by a selfish, power-hungry, corrupt, racist and misleading government. They will stop at nothing to push through their own agendas. Or new chief justice Mogoeng will also be a puppet in the hands of the the government towards it's selfish goals.

  • Mart - 2011-09-17 08:49

    'The tip of the Ice Berg' is all we can see of the current ANC. I firmly believe that their actual agenda is buried very deep and the information bill is designed to keep it that way. I also think that there is something else brewing with the Chinese, something that has to do with world dominance and South Africa is strategically placed. The Chinese are pulling our government's strings and they are too thick to realise that in the bigger Chinese plan, Africans are expendable. They know that by them making one or two calculated moves, Africans will turn on each other in a heartbeat and destroy each other. The current impasse and conflict between the 'New ANC' and ANCYL points to the Chinese support giving Malema 'dutch courage' to take on the 'legends'. Watch my tracer!

      onespirit - 2011-09-17 10:06

      I totally agree with you. Zuma has sold our country and our human rights to China. Malema is cosying up to Mugabe, showing China that he, too can be a pawn in their agenda. Already China is telling us who can and who can't come to SA, eg. the Dalai Lama. South Africa is becoming China's beeatch, and is in the process of adopting their poor human rights.

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:17

      i agree

  • Ndlovu - 2011-09-17 09:04

    Its may be bether to hide bad things... and so they wont have to publish anything.. saving taxpayers money! hrmmmmmm

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:19

      That might be true, but not right! Gov. must rather be more efficient in spending, but them are they mature enough to do that.

      moiraine - 2011-09-18 16:07

      Trouble is the bad thing probably involve the waste or theft of taxpayers money

  • Slapper - 2011-09-17 09:07

    The ANC is a corrupt dictatorship and this is just another move to entrench them and hide any corruption, incompetence or embarrassment. I fear that we are heading for another failed African state story.

  • YES - 2011-09-17 09:13

    All bull. All cited countries in the report are no match to Human Rights record of South Africa. our Constitution (and all arising from it), is hailed as liberal and most progressive. White people and liberals use the court and chapter 9 institutions to oppose the government. And we have seen how they hav e successfully used "national interest" principle to get the governmentr to hell on a number of occasions therefore it cannot be true that legislatures are hiding b ehind the very principle that they have used to get at the government before. I am therefore suspicious of non-whites mentioned in the report to portray that even blacks are oppposed to the bill. It's even strange that foreigners are quick to point at Zuma's administration when their governments' policies are not open to public scrutiny. For in stance, no one is saying a damn about tortutre centres America is running near Cuba or raising a finger about draconial laws France has introduced against muslims in that country. Laura Neuman must show us what she did about some of these atrocities in her country before she start to pontify.

      onespirit - 2011-09-17 10:10

      yeah, we all know about the atrocities carried out by 'civilized' nations, aspecially by the Bush administration. Now is our chance to NOT follow that route.

      leonard - 2011-09-17 11:32

      @Yes. I do not want to debate with you since it is impossible to "debate" with an idiot.But I will try to point out a few errors in your post.Your reference to human rights record refers to history,not the future.Look ahead to see what is to come.Your reference to some so called blacks being anti the bill is correct in that a growing number of black people(thinkers)can see the impending danger.No more for now,don`t want to tax you too much.

      FM150 - 2011-09-17 15:54

      @Yes, i wrote a 1200 character letter to you but afterwards decised agains it, for i wil not let myself drop to your lever of stupidity! May your eyes open someday, but im afraid its not going to be all rainbowy then! Enjoy your banana state

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:39

      First of all, we are not America, France or any other country, this is South Africa!! Secondly, I think you are paranoid about whites. Thirdly, all people in this country should not be taken for a ride. Yes some whites are trash, and so are some blacks. Sometimes the things written here by whites makes me cringe, but I can see people are becoming very frustrated, it becomes personal. But most people in general are good, people wanting good things for all, harmony. It is a pity that the perceived threat are whites, and only because most conscious and educated people are white. That is unfortunate as the government has had the chance since 1994 to educate people, I wonder about there seriousness. Often insecurity is disguised by attack, and what better propaganda to protect yourself. I personally get the feeling though that you just completely misunderstand anything written by white people. Chill dude

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:01

      O, and yes, maybe you think whites are the enemy because the anc has told you so??!

      Andre111 - 2011-09-24 04:31

      @ Alice,,,so,,,,laptops will come free one of these days???and to who?

  • Deset Rat - 2011-09-17 09:27

    No worries, the Nat Government had the anti apartheid movements against them. The ANC is going to have the South African "Spring" against them very soon, supported by all freedom lovers in the country and the great democracies world wide. The ANC is running really scared, look what happened to the Gadaffi and his green book!

      YES - 2011-09-17 09:40

      You thrived and was priviledged throughout your live yet you have temerity to tell us how best we should run our our lives? Go jump into the lake.

      Servaas - 2011-09-17 09:55

      @Yes:No one is telling you how to run your life. The ANC & ANCYL give south africans a bad name all over. ANCYL is not civilized, they can not even behave and as for malema, he is a joke.

      onespirit - 2011-09-17 10:00

      @ YES - you have no idea what you're talking about. These are YOUR rights the ANC wants to trample on. The Constitution is for everyone, even people like you, and Zuma is trampling on it. He is trampling on YOU, my brother. Stop your racist agenda. We fought for EQUAL rights. Get rid of your victim mentality. People like Juju are using you as pawns and laughing AT you for falling into his manipulation, making you blame other people. While you are looking in the direction of blame being pointed,you are being robbed of YOUR rights and money. Wake up!

      Oldbuck - 2011-09-18 15:10

      @ yes change your name to yebo,you can change it back when you learn to spell

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:45

      YES: Yes you have done it again!!

  • Born To Fish - 2011-09-17 09:34

    What in Africa goes forward?

      onespirit - 2011-09-17 10:19

      Botswana - the fasting growing economy in Africa, which, coincidentally, is the country Malema wants to topple.

      InCOLDblood - 2011-09-17 10:25

      juliaas !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      sniperman - 2011-09-17 14:06

      A black Range Rover

      Alice - 2011-09-18 15:57

      If you go onto as an example, you will discover the incredibly efficient way that Botswana is run. The founding fathers had set up a beautiful system. According to the corruption watchdog, Transparency International, Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa. I wonder if Malema is not after there diamonds and oil, that bloody colonialist / imperialist! Wow, and there agriculture is even successfull!!

  • adrianvh - 2011-09-17 10:00

    Like with all laws, this bill, once enacted will be administered with taxpayers money and yet the citizens do not stand to benefit from this law in any way. It is there only for the protection of those in government and to hide things from our eyes and minds. Are we children that these buffoons in goverment need to decide what we should know and what not. They are in fear of what would ultimately come out and want to draw a veil over their secrets. It's purely there for the perpetuation of their own jobs no matter what. No different from the apartheid government - just a change of colour and lip service to democracy. Even this government will eventually fall. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-09-17 10:01

    Jacob wants to protect himself and his corrupt cronies

      Servaas - 2011-09-17 10:07


  • onespirit - 2011-09-17 10:16

    What a coincidence! Just at the time when the arms deal case comes to the fore. And straight after the Chief Justice is unconstitutionally instated, oh, and the panel is appointed by Zuma himself. I think we are going to hear a lot of, "I'm not at liberty to answer that."

  • InCOLDblood - 2011-09-17 10:24

    Lets lock up all our citizens who find out anything about anything. We can then be just like any other dirty commie system. What a great ambition to have. What a great government to have. Lets all vote them in again at the earliest opportunity. Lets let the rest of the world see how clever we are. JULIAAS FOR PRESIDENT..........KILL EVERYONE (if we cant lock them up)

  • letsee - 2011-09-17 10:30

    So much for transparent democeacy. It is obvious that the ANC wants to "control" the democracy making a mokery of it and working in its favor. As a British someone said, the ANC is implementing strategies and policies like the apartheid era NP did.

  • letsee - 2011-09-17 10:31

    Left wing minds are experts in "controlling" people.

      Servaas - 2011-09-17 10:42

      Especially uneducated ones..

  • Wayne - 2011-09-17 10:38

    To Jacob Zuma... some might address you as president and indeed you may have that title... but it is temporary and the question will alwys be asked if it was deserved or manipulated for pure self enrichment. The real question however will be to ask what legacy your tenure as president will leave... up to now it cannot be substantial or even worthy of recognition as you fail to act on obvious corruption and instead seek to enforce draconian legislation equalled only by the regime of nationalists the ANC supposedly fought against. You have at your disposal the ability to make this nation great and indeed to be able to prove to the rest of the world that African nations can hold their heads up high in democratic can be seen by your spineless reaction to questions that matter and which stab at the heart of the ANC's failure to govern in the interests of ALL South Africans... you are merely a perpetuation of failed revolutionary movements where it is more important to ensure self enrichment and cadre deployment and to suppress true freedom of speech. If the ANC Government is truly doing a good job at governing then it would stand to reason that you and the ANC would want true transparency that would ensure genuine support by ALL South Africans... your version of the Secrecy Bill however says otherwise and in truth only confirms that which we know... that the ANC cannot achieve it's ends without corruption, nepotism, tenderpreneurship and poor governance.

      Oldbuck - 2011-09-18 15:49

      wayne, your comment is great and well thought out but you will have to dilute your english a few of our dark green readers are totally confused

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:10

      Great leaders are praised and remembered fondly, bad leader are only remembered as traitors and how not to do things in the future. Yes every troll will get his day. A great leader in my opinion is honorable, honest and is fair. Obviously many african leaders and brainwashed anc's will disagree with me, but then great thing in a truly free society is debate! lets see if it will last, the freedom i mean.

  • Charles Mercer - 2011-09-17 10:40

    Gosh the timing of the secrecy bill and Zuma's commission on the arms deal corruption scandal seem a little too coincidental?

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:15

      absolutely!! including chief J moegeng. But then don't say banana republic, most of educated VIP's may think that its all about bananas. :)

  • prsephton - 2011-09-17 12:00

    More like a "Giant Leap" backwards

  • YES - 2011-09-17 12:36

    One stupid (probably whitey) doesn't know to measure ones record is by looking at the past and not the future. Another one moron, who probably doesn't know aboput my political record (which is freely available on google) thinks I thumb suck politics from anc and its baby youth league. I subscribe to Black Consciousness, an antithesis of liberalism and believe strongly in the principle that Nuremberg trials were founded and which would have rid the country of racists who have infested our beautiful country and want to tell us how we should run it. I have no track for anc or Zuma's administration, but have a problem with whites who thrive at benovelence of black people.

      Mlungu - 2011-09-17 13:27

      you are obviously educated in the new learnes scheme - awazi luthu wena - hamba imfene. Blacks have run the place into the ground like the rest of Africa you need Mlungu's to run the place and you know it

      Servaas - 2011-09-17 14:39

      @Yes:"Another one moron, who probably doesn't know aboput my political record (which is freely available on google)" Wow, you attended the ANC political schooling.. Such a joke you are... You are a racist.

      Al - 2011-09-18 08:20

      The Nuremberg trails where set up to convict Nazis who tried very hard to "rid the country of 'jews' who have infested our beautiful country"

      Oldbuck - 2011-09-18 15:51

      who wrote this article for you,only one or two mistakes and the grammar is not you

      Oldbuck - 2011-09-18 15:52

      @ al dont bring the jews into it

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:19

      Consciousness does not just mean awake! You talking about people living in the past, don't contradict yourself!!

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:25

      But good for you to get healthy debate going. :)

  • Durbsdude - 2011-09-17 15:57

    It's that Commie mentality. They were brainwashed to be dishonest..and it's in their genes.

  • YES - 2011-09-17 16:25

    I do not know of any black person who is racist. If you go through the history of this our beautiful country, you will never find any mention of a racist black. But history will point out that whites are racists irrespective of their ideology. Therefore, to label me a racist wont stick unless one has run out of definitions. Neither can statements I make indicate that am not lettered nor doubt my capacity to debate the issues unless one is indeed stupid.

      leonard - 2011-09-17 20:05

      @Yes Firstly,post the thread to your google persona,would love to see and read about the person who can make such outrageous statements.In effect you come across as a total peasant with a blinkered viewpoint.You claim on another site to be committed to black consiousness,which in my opinion is a major driver of much of the strife in SA today.Because of this a few suggestions for you.Stop buying at or eating any food supplied by whites,don`t buy cars or clothing from whites etc,etc,etc.and see how far you get.If whites started their own movement you would be hopping up and down like a jack in the box.Fool, we all need each other to make the country work,please try and understand this.

      Al - 2011-09-18 08:25

      You are a racist, you want to get rid of whites. By the way that is actually a step up from racism, it is called genocide. Why do you hate whites so much dude?

      Oldbuck - 2011-09-18 15:14

      @ yes,good lord you have been brainwashed,people like you are extremly dangerous to society and should not be allowed to walk around freely

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:20

      The anc??

      Alice - 2011-09-18 16:36

      I've heard that Cyril Ramaphosa was shafted from becoming president and thus resigned when Mbeki came to power. Apparently not Xhosa or Zulu. Not sure if i'm correct. Apparently Tokyo Sexwale is same tribe. An interesting correlation seeing that Tokyo Sexwale is currently supporting Malema. As I said I am not one hundred percent sure of this.

  • J T - 2011-09-17 19:10 “Section 38(c) of the Constitution provides that any person can act as a member of a class in approaching a court when alleging that a right in the Bill of Rights has been infringed or threatened2. In giving effect to this section of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) held in Permanent Secretary, Department of Welfare, Eastern Cape v Ngxuza 2001 (4) SA 1184 (SCA) that s 38(c) of the Constitution authorised the use of an American-style class action. It must be emphasised that the use and recognition of a class action in terms of the Constitution has application only in circumstances where a Constitutional right has been infringed or threatened. (Continued on next page...)

  • J T - 2011-09-17 19:11

    The SCA indicated that the requirements for a class action contained in Rule 23(a) of the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the Federal Rules) were applicable in South Africa (certainly insofar as "Constitutional" based class actions are concerned). Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules provides that one or more members of a class may sue as representative parties on behalf of all if: the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; there are questions of law or fact common to the class; the claims or defences of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defences of the class, and the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class. These four requirements are commonly known as ‘numerosity’, ‘commonality’, ‘typicality’, and ‘adequacy of representation’. Apart from the Constitution, recent legislative reform affords standing to persons to institute actions on behalf of a class when enforcing rights or seeking certain remedies under that legislation.” Here below is the website pertaining the above given information: Respectfully.

  • aapseun - 2011-09-18 09:16

    Its only to cover the corruption of the African Native Criminals. Nothing more to be said.

  • Alice - 2011-09-18 17:00

    From an article on Zambia "The overriding perception is that the Anti-Corruption Commission is losing its power, or at least its will to pursue cases of corruption and we don't feel it is impartial or independent enough from government." He said last year's decision by parliament to remove from the Anti-Corruption Act the clause on "abuse of public office" (where government officials use their connections to win contracts and favour) had been a big setback for the country.

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