Simply put, the controversial Protection of State Information Bill (POIB) popularly known as the “Secrecy Bill” is bad for us as a democracy. If you quickly look over it, the bill it looks fine; in the preamble it is stated that the bill desires “to put the protection of information within a transparent and sustainable legislative framework”. The preamble sells the POIB pretty well, but as you read further, things begin to look worryingly sinister as terms such as “national security” as haphazardly thrown around. This we already know, so I’m not going to bore you with the details of the POIB.
As South Africans, we are generally sceptical of the work (or lack thereof) done by our politicians and government, so it comes as no surprise that there has been widespread outcry against the POIB, which could potentially gag whistle-blowers. In a statement, the Nelson Mandela Foundation said they seek “to ensure that the bill meets standards of constitutionality and aspirations for freedom of information and expression while at the same time providing protection for legitimate state secrets.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu also voiced his concerned saying it is “insulting to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing.” The voices of those against the POIB are loud and clearly.
Civil society organisations like Right2Know and the media mobilised South Africans to wear black on Tuesday in protest of the POIB, dubbing the day “Black Tuesday”. Protesters gathered at landmarks such as the ANC headquarters Luthuli House, the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto, and Parliament in Cape Town, amongst other places. Despite the intentions of the symbolic protest which aimed, like most protests, to build awareness, there were some in the Twitter community which questioned the use of the colour black. They asked why use of the colour black, and should everything that is bad be associated with the colour black. In a society where race is a central feature of all social discourse, one can understand the concerns of some but it also shows a lack of insight. So let me furnish the naysayers with some.
Anyone who has seen a Hollywood film which shows classified CIA or FBI documents has seen pages covered with blocks of black ink, with only a few arbitrary and meaningless words visible. Closer to home, the Mail & Guardian has on several occasions in recent times, had to censor their front pages with black blocks. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how “Black Tuesday” came to be. You can choose to reject this explanation and make it an issue of race, but the POIB still remains.
Those who have questioned the use of black have every right to do so, and have again shown that the issue of race, after 17 years of democracy, is unfinished business. South Africa’s race relations remain one of those uncomfortable truths which need to be discussed. The reality is that the POIB, as it stands, could cover many other uncomfortable truths, like corruption, which politicians would like unheard. Whether it is state corruption or race relations, nobody should be censored. Nobody should be silenced. DM