Themba Maseko, the spokesperson for the Cabinet, today confirmed that the government is committed to accommodating the views expressed during public hearings on the Protection of Information Bill “as far as practicable and reasonable”.
Maseko told a media briefing — following Cabinet’s regular Wednesday meeting — that they welcomed the representations received from interested parties and appreciated the public’s dedication and participation in the consultative processes enshrined in the Constitution.
This is unfortunate because the Protection of Information Bill is, to my mind, totally beyond salvage in a constitutional democracy.
The legislation to safeguard documents that require classification is already in place as witnessed at the trial of former top cop Jackie Selebi. The state already has that capability now.
What this act does is provide senior government department heads with the means to hide issues, which should be in the public domain, using the cover that it is in the interests of national security.
In fact the potential to hide corruption means that the bill itself is a threat to national security.
While I’d like to be able to say that it serves a purpose and could be amended to include certain changes, which would make it beneficial to South Africans, I can’t.
It is simply an aberration that needs to be buried and never raised again.
It adds nothing to our democracy except a means of burying information based upon the whims of politicians with horrendous criminal sanctions if anyone dares to breach it.
Maseko said: “We reiterate that this process has not been completed and the bill is yet to be finalised. Government, through the minister of state security [Dr Siyabonga Cwele], is considering the valuable submissions and representations made during the public hearings and are committed to accommodate the views expressed as far as practicable and reasonable.”
“In addition that Cwele had been focusing on areas which might be broad and/or vague, and which had the potential to infringe on other rights enshrined in the Constitution. Following this involved and detailed process, the minister would table a comprehensive response to Parliament, when the ad hoc committee working on the bill next met.”
Unfortunately that sums up the problem we are having with our constitutional democracy.
The minister is trying to focus on areas that are “broad or vague” and is and listening to and accommodating views?
The Protection of Information Bill is a draconian piece of legislation.
To use a ridiculous example :
If there was a “Murder all Left-Hand Citizens Bill” on the table would the fact that the government is hearing views on how to make it more palatable be of any assistance? Would the fact that it is less vague, change the fundamental reason for its existence?
Of course not.
The Protection of Information Bill is an act that would furnish powers to government department heads (which should be in the hands of intelligence and specialist officials only – who by the way already have them) and allow them to place a blanket over the very documents that might negatively affect the citizens of South Africa while having no bearing on national security.
Whether they clarify the clauses or listen to opinions on this outrage is irrelevant.
Finally we are told by Maseko : “Government hopes that its scrutiny of the representations and its response will go a long way towards meeting the recommendations made in the submissions and representations during the consultative process.”
We saw what happened with South Africa’s “consultative process” on the Scorpions — when the views of all the experts in the world could not shift those in power from suggesting that when they spoke to the masses they wanted the Scorpions gone.
Let’s try that on the masses by giving them practical questions on issues rather than abstracts.
Ask the masses : What would you do if you found out that R50 billion of your money, which could have been used for paying workers and service delivery, went walkabout?
Then ask them : Would you be upset if we told you that the Scorpions had to go because, inter alia, they kept raising it?
What about : Would you be upset if we hid away documents under the guise of a Protection of Information Bill that could prove where things like your R50 billion went. Arrest anyone who has the proof of such acts?
As a last one : Charge media houses that dare to report on those who took your R50 billion?
Let’s see how popular the reality is surrounding the Protection of Information Bill and Media Appeals Tribunal when you ask the real questions of the masses.
How do we know that the above are the real questions?
Very simply this — there is prevailing legislation, common law and case law to deal with the issues of classifying documents in the interest of national security. There are courts and other forums to deal with the press and media where they are out of line. Why would you ever need these and who needs them?
When Joe of Boksburg or Philemon from Dobsonville gets called names in the media nobody blinks an eye. When cronies, unscrupulous politicians and fatcats are shown up then we need these measures.
These measures are totally unnecessary and wholly inappropriate in a constitutional democracy.
They protect no-one other than politicians and wealthy individuals while placing us as close to a police state as we have been since apartheid. Unlike the Scorpions people cannot just allow this to happen with a shrug of the shoulders.
In real terms, armed with those powers, the members of Cosatu and other unions will soon find out how powerfully and brutally you can deal with labour when the press is blacked out. That the unions won’t be able to find out what the fatcats are earning or any other information pertinent to labour.
In the ANC itself what is to stop a clique from doing an ANCYL Limpopo on any opponent?
Who would blow the whistle?
Who would report it?
The ever evolving party that is the ANC just needs one circle to utilise the powers that these measures bring – and others they will introduce – to entrench themselves permanently.
You can forget concerns about ANCYL president Julius Malema — armed with these powers Juju would not even get close to power before vested interest groups closed him out.
It is time for members of the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP along with everyone else to sit down and ask themselves what — IN REAL TERMS — the provisions of those measures mean on a day-to-day basis. How they might be applied to stop any dissent.
Worse, once entrenched and with these measures in place, how would you, short of a violent uprising, remove those holding these powers?
Two words : Robert Mugabe.
In the wrong hands, which is what you have to cater for, they could be the death of democracy.
Why would you ever afford anyone that opportunity?