Kiss Your Liberties Goodbye

2011-12-15 14:50

So the controversial Protection of State Information Bill has been passed by Parliament even though almost all those who made submissions raising their objections to the bill were not happy with it and protested until the last minute.

I actually laughed when I heard about the planned protest, though this is a right guaranteed by the constitution; there is no guarantee on its effectiveness.

I walked away from the protest as the black Tuesday made it feel like a real funeral and I hate funerals. There was sadness all around.

This sadness did not last long though because when I got to the V&A WHARF after leaving the protest for a bit of retail therapy, I couldn't help but notice how people were going on with their lives as if nothing life changing was happening less than 10 minutes away from the mall.

All I saw were people happy enjoying life and the retail therapy worked as I soon forgot about what was happening in Parliament.

That was until I met a Zimbabwean politician shopping with his wife. He had the Zim flag on his 'fancy' suit then I realised that Mugabe did not become a dictator overnight, he was elected democratically and passed laws in the assembly not from his palace.

It dawned on me that dictators do not take away any rights but limit them, well most dictators anyway. They first start with one right, then if they successfully limit one; what is to stop them limiting the rest?

Being in a position of power is sweet because in a democracy majority has the power to enact any legislation judging by most African democracies.

This reminds me of a quote I came across on Facebook. Larry Flynt once said "Majority rule works if you're also considering individual rights. Because you cannot five wolves and one sheep voting on what to have for supper" so the ANC would do well to consider the rights of others before their interests.

In our constitutional democracy context the bill not only limits the rights of citizens to access information but undermines the very democracy used to pass the bill.

If we want a quality democracy then no law limiting access to information should be passed especially if there is such strong opposition to such legislation.

This passing of such a bill makes the opposition voice nothing more than that, just a voice.

How on earth can you justify limiting access to information when you expect people to make well informed decisions on the ballot paper especially if they will only know what the party in government wants them to know?

Of course this serves the ruling party well, all their mishaps will be hidden making it difficult for anyone to hold the government of the day accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Then how does the voter make an objective choice? There can be no accountability without complete transparency.

This bill weakens our democracy when we should only see legislation that strengthens what many died for.

The executive sphere of government has to understand that it not only accounts to the National Assembly but to the public as well, so they simply cannot have secrets. If I hire you to perform a specific task, I really do not see why you would want to keep secrets about how you are performing that task; you are my servant after all not the other way around.

This is not the first limitation on our rights and is most probably not the last. The ANC is using other countries as examples to justify this.

It is important to note that the US also limited the rights of the citizens after 9/11 claiming it’s for their own protection.

Recently we had to register our sim cards for our calls to be recorded to assist the police in fighting organised crime. That limits our right to privacy for 'our own security', now the people we employ to serve us want to keep secrets from us. Your security guard is peeping on you and wants to keep secrets from you for 'own protection'. What a load of rubbish.

These limitations, like all communist states will keep coming up, remember that Zuma is a communist and so is Mantashe. The communists have positioned themselves well in the ANC ranks and are in control. And control is what communists are about.

So how many rights will the communists limit seeing that they cannot change the constitution to take them away completely? One of the pillars of democracy is transparency, without it democracy is flawed.

So if the ANC cannot take our right to vote for any party of our choice, they can certainly control what information is available to the voters so that the voter makes the 'informed' choice of voting for the ANC because it will then be seen without the many flaws we are accustomed to.

The people of this country should soon realize that rights are to be treasured not taken for granted. If the state had on November 22nd passed a bill that would take away state grants, free ‘Houses’, there would have been a riot all over the country but there wasn’t on black Tuesday because the many poor were busy looking for their next meal and the working class were working to provide for their families while the wealthy were enjoying life.

Most of the people who were in Parliament worked in the media, you need to see a service delivery protest in a township to tell the difference and how the ‘poor’ protest.

We should treasure all rights not some of the and equally protect them as Madam Zille once said “democracy doesn’t fail, people fail democracy”. I do not think we want to wake up someday and wonder what we were doing when the ANC enacted laws that limit the rights, remember that we tend to take things for granted; only when we have lost them do we suddenly want to take action.

If we truly have a rights based democracy then citizens should have more say on their rights and have direct control of all limitations on them, not to have a say only on the ballot paper once every five years. A lot can happen in five years.

Why not amend the constitution to require a national referendum on all legislation affecting the bill of rights and such legislation be passed only if a 2 thirds majority in favor of the bill is reached on such a referendum. That for me would be the real will of the people.

The limitations of rights might be constitutional but they only serve to show us that we as the public should never give politicians that much power because all power can be abused. And the ANC has shown us what it can do with it.

I just wonder what the Protection of State Information bill means to the section 32 wording “Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state” but that means nothing to the ANC MPs that voted in favor of the bill.

The lesson that South Africans must learn is that democracy depends on how the people manage it, undermine one pillar then you can forget about democracy. Democracy is not simply voting for which person should hold which position but how the entire system is managed by the institutions entrusted by the constitution to protect democracy, the politicians elected to the National Assembly to enact legislation that gives effect to the rights enshrined on the constitution so that all citizens enjoy them, and the public using their vote to hold the government of the day accountable for their actions or lack thereof.

When the legislature passes laws that limit rights rather than enhancing them then you must get worried, just as you must worry when the citizens take no notice after the legislature just limited one of the fundamental rights in a truly democratic society.

To conclude, the Protection of State Information bill has just reduced our democracy to the level of the Zim democracy and shows signs that it is going down the communist route; and a large portion of the citizens couldn’t care less as long as they will still enjoy state grants and the promise of ‘free’ houses.

Ideally you would want voters that use their votes to hold the governing party accountable for its actions or lack thereof. This would greatly limit power abuse and secure the citizens rights but now like the Zimbabwe democracy, the governing party can do anything comfortable in the knowledge that it enjoys support from the voters regardless of what legislation they enact. This leaves us with the courts as our only hope of securing rights besides the vote once every 5 years. But when you have legislative authority, you can change the laws to suit your needs and if you cannot take the rights away; you can always limit them.

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