The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- Jay Naidoo
- 22 Nov 2011 07:27 (South Africa)
The outrageous comment by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele in Parliament that opponents raising their concerns against the so-called Secrecy Bill are agents of foreign spies is ominous. Such statements in the highest representative structure of our democracy represents a dangerous and paranoid direction for our country. The fact that Cwele has not yet been contradicted or disciplined makes make me even more suspicious and opposed to the passage of this proposed law.
Are we drifting back to an era of apartheid-style censorship, with the new apparatchiks deciding what our thoughts and debates should be? Just as such tactics failed to silence us in the past and spawned a grassroots rebellion of alternative media, what our current leaders should realise is that the rise of the internet and the powerful tools of social media make imposing a veil of secrecy in South Africa, or the world, impossible today.
I have spent time in Tunisia this past week at a food-security conference organised by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. I interacted with leaders that drove the “Arab Spring”. The reality is that Tunisia ranked very high on the Mo Ibrahim index of development. Yet the frustration with a predatory elite around the dictatorship of Ben Ali drove a revolution that has redefined the 21st century and brought down seemingly invincible dictators.
The reason for the revolution was an anger against a secretive state that took away the voice of people – and sheltered an increasingly corrupt and intertwined economic and political elite who controlled the state. Mahmoud Bouzizi was our Hector Pieterson, and his fiery sacrifice opened the floodgates of democracy. The slogan was explicit – social justice, freedom and democracy – all essential ingredients of the right to know and express our voice. Our policymakers in our Parliament must sit up and understand how this became a powerful spark for revolution.
Listening to the State Security Minister our worst fears now appear to be justified. More than a full year ago, on 31 August 2010, the Right2Know Campaign launched as a broad-based, civil-society response to the draconian clauses of the Secrecy Bill. Accepting the need to replace apartheid-era secrecy legislation, we made seven simple demands of any law that governs information to ensure that our right to access and share information is protected. I, alongside millions of South Africans, raised my voice.
While in the past few months we have seen positive progress towards a more participatory public process, this now appears to have been ditched in favour of the heavy hand of the securocrats. Today, after months of wrangling, and despite recent promising developments in the parliamentary deliberations, the Secrecy Bill still fails the freedom test as set by the Right2Know Campaign.
The consensus position I thought we had reached was to limit secrecy to strictly-defined national security matters and that state officials had to provide justifiable reasons for such requests. But the bill being voted on this Tuesday contains only the narrowest possible protection for whistleblowers employed by the state, and none whatsoever for ordinary citizens or journalists who expose a state secret that reveals wrongdoing or corruption in the state. Although the minimum mandatory prison sentences for these offences has been removed, the maximum prison sentences are extended to up to 25 years.
The revised definition of “national security” and the notion that the state can hand out such heavy-handed jail sentences for possessing, sharing or even receiving an email containing classified information is draconian. It is completely out of proportion with the alleged breach of the law. It implies that securocrats are gaining the upper hand in the state machinery and can target any individual, organisation or media agency that the state perceives is acting contrary to its security objectives.
I also support the establishment of an independent body appointed by Parliament – and not the Minister of State Security – to review decisions about what may be made secret. The Classification Review Panel does not go far enough in providing a mechanism for public appeal against decisions of the state.
The public and civil society have made repeated calls for the bill to be withdrawn and redrafted in a transparent process that involves meaningful public consultation. This, I believe, is the only legitimate process that will rebuild the breakdown of trust between the state and society.
I, personally, have deep suspicions about the undue haste with which this bill is being steamrolled through Parliament. I call on MPs – who are entrusted with our mandate to represent the hopes and aspirations of the people – to send the bill back to the drawing board. A failure to do this reinforces a view that our Parliament is not independent of the executive and this undermines our democratic process. We cannot foster a growing alienation of the organs of civil society and the public from the highest representative of our democracy. It holds the prospect of deepening division and suspicion that will surely undermine the fabric of society.
Reports of officials in the Ministry of State Security herding the discussion by placing political pressure on MPs are unacceptable, if proved to be true. Such actions give the impression that we are not governed by representatives we elect, but by unelected apparatchiks of the state.
I urge the representatives of Parliament to resist the undue political pressure they are facing and stand up against the securocrats who are currently driving this process. We cannot return to the era of the state-security establishment determining the content and boundaries our right to freedom of expression. Many activists, freedom fighters and media leaders paid a heavy price to entrench this right as a key anchor to our Constitution, which ultimately represents the national interests of the people. Do not betray that trust. DM
- International development: Murder, one log frame at a time
- Blood, Power and Betrayal
- The night of the long knives
- The global food system is broken; here's how to fix it
- Africa's tomorrow depends on empowering its people today
- Ebola: Fear, Paralysis, Solidarity, Justice
- The UN General Assembly week, New York: A cacophony of noise and hope
- Hiking the roof of Africa; my journey to the depths of myself
- Visualising the end of inequality – a new path to negotiation
- After the platinum strike: We dare not fail now
- Letter to the next generation
- Formal vs. informal economy: Bridging the gap
- Connecting the dots: Building workers’ unity and workers’ power
- Democracy in distress: Are our elections bought and our votes sold?
- May Day 2014: Cosatu's tough choice of the politics of workers unity or politics of political parties
- COSATU: In the eye of the storm
- Twenty years of SA democracy: A new fight must begin
- Kibera: Hope and human dignity rising in the slums of Africa
- The rise and fall of Cosatu: From vanguard to sacrificial lamb
- A leader I would vote for: Botswana's former president Festus Mogae
- A leader I would vote for: President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde
- Op-Ed: A giant stumbling through the minefield of political division – my appeal to the Cosatu workers
- A leader I would vote for: Joaquim Alberto Chissano
- A leader I would vote for: President Mujica of Uruguay
- That Lula Moment: A question of leadership and integrity
- Following the money: Work with citizens to make our money work for all
- Checkmate: The rise of radicalism
- Lords of the Niger Delta: The Shell legacy of profit before people
- Protests, police and cowardice – our State of the Nation
- New stones for my Madiba rosary
- The final journey and the legacy that will always live in our hearts
- After the tears, the hard work of building the world that Mandela believed in
- Mandela's gone. But he will be with us, forever.
- Bekkersdal: The turning point in SA municipal politics – time for a line in the ground
- Africa Rising? Whose Africa?
- The scramble for the Arctic and the dangers of Russia’s race for oil
- Africa's future is clear: Youth, Technology & Broadband
- Child mortality is our human rights failure of the 21st century
- Technology can wipe out the cancer of corruption
- My open letter to South Africa
- Amputating the soul of our children
- The vision of the Invisible Children
- A humble billionaire, asking tough questions
- Cry, the beloved country; cry, the beloved federation
- Humanity at a crossroads: Fighting for climate justice
- Wanted: Ancient wisdoms to heal our planet
- The taste of power: its sanctity and its perversion
- When the town I loved burned down, or, when Heaven was visited by Hell
- As our Constitution lives, so does Mandela
- Bangladesh: Losing some battles, but winning the war
- Rana Square – the Ground Zero of workers’ rights
- Small-scale farming: simple, successful, sustainable
- A global debate needs local voices
- When will Africa be led by the needs of its people?
- The faultlines in our society: Why are we so angry?
- Nigeria: Africa's best hopes and worst fears
- Our ancient African heritage holds the key to our future
- To build a better world for all, we need a new narrative, new energy, new commitment
- A culture of service and tolerance: Lessons from Chris Hani
- Open data platforms: a tool to revolutionise governance
- Aluta continua: Why the fight for quality healthcare can’t be over
- ‘I raped her because she belongs to me’
- Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?
- A trip to Limpopo: The Forgotten Land
- 'I have a right to a toilet - it's human dignity'
- Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- The challenges of today are South Africa's opportunities of tomorrow
- India: The ongoing tyranny of the caste system
- To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.
- The Lula moment and this country of ours, South Africa
- African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Africa’s 'leadership crisis' - we have more agency than we think
- Think climate change isn't your problem? It will be when you can't eat
- The wuthering heights of disenchantment
- An open letter to Cosatu
- Democracy for all: Marikana signals our second chance
- Can't you hear the thunder?
- A new age, a new role for foundations: redefine development
- Video series - great women of SA: Emma Mashinini (I)
- Mother love: Time to add decency and respect to women's hard-won rights
- GAINing ground: The beauty of one good idea
- Education: a morass of mediocrity
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part V
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part IV
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part III
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part II
- Celebrating Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us
- Mandela day: time for the next generation to take control
- The school of sexual predation
- Rio+20: We're not colonies anymore
- Prayers to the rain gods
- Our foreign policy gets more foreign as time goes by
- Not a moment to Spear: Why, in a time of crisis, that painting is irrelevant
- Ma Emma: The true spear of the nation
- Araku - the truth, the inspiration
- An infinite vision - The story of the Aravind eye hospital
- Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Our future lies in the mothers of nature
- There's a Light in the Get Kony Campaign
- Empowerment lies in women in Indian villages talking to those in African villages
- Dear President Zuma
- Adequate food is essential component of social justice
- Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus
- The Grinch who stole hope
- The Grinch who stole hope
- iMaverick, Monday 28 November
- Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- The powder kegs of unmet expectations in our midst
- iMaverick, Wednesday 19 October
- Finding one's humanity where little else remains
- Food security: A matter of war and peace