POIB Protestors March in Cape Town; Hearing Set

14 October 2010

Opponents to the South African government’s proposed Protection of Information Bill (POIB) law staged a march against it Oct. 12, one of numerous protest events held in advance of a further hearing in parliament on the controversial bill.

The rally at the Parliament building in Cape Town was organized by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), and was criticized by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), as described in a media account.

The DA’s federal chairman, Wilmot James, who led the march, said South Africans were not free unless they knew what was going on in their country. “We need to know what our government is up to, because, if it is doing the wrong thing, we want to say so and demand that it be made right. State information is our information, not only the government’s.”

The party also delivered a petition containing 28,710 signatures protesting the  bill to President  Jacob Zuma’s office at Parliament.

ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga said the DA’s decision to march was “puzzling.” “The DA has always been, and continues to be, part of all parliamentary forums dealing with this bill through its representatives in this institution. It is unheard of that a political party organises a march against an institution within which it enjoys a significant representation,” Motshekga said.

The bill is before the Ad Hoc Committee on Protection of Information Bill, which has now scheduled a “Further Briefing” on Oct. 22 to hear more from State Security Minister Siyabonga Cweleon the concerns raised about the bill (B6-2010).

Testimony Withheld

Also stirring interest recently was the government’s refusal to provide the opposition with a copy of the testimony on the POIB made last month by  Cwele, according to a media report.

” To refuse access to the… information… which was presented at an open parliamentary committee meeting, at which the media were present, is bizarre,” said Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier.

“Disclosure could reasonably be expected to cause prejudice to the defence and the security of the Republic,” the State Security Agency wrote in a letter sent in response to Maynier’s request for a copy.

Maynier, was quoted as saying that the refusal to supply the information reflected a “new paranoia which is spreading like an oil slick in government.”

The SSA letter says that allowing access to a copy of the presentation “would reveal information supplied in confidence by or on behalf of another state or organisation”.

Maynier said in a statement that members of the media had attended and reported on the presentation, and a detailed minute of the meeting was published on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group’s website at the time.

“After the meeting, the minister surprisingly refused to make hard copies of the power-point presentation available to committee members because the document was ‘classified,’ Maynier said.

Critics of the bill continue to hold forums on the proposal. At one such recent event in Johannesburg, lawyer and well-known whistleblower Mike Tshishonga said the bill will make it impossible for whistleblowers to step forward,  according to a media report.  

“In the proposed bill, the government… will have the legal right to raid the homes and offices of any citizen it feels has documents that they should not have, without having to go through the legal channels,” he told a seminar on the bill at the University of Johannesburg.

The ANC turned down an invitation to attend a debate on media freedom hosted by the University of South Africa in Pretoria, according to a media report. In addition to the POIB, the party is sponsoring a controversial proposal to tighten regulation of the media.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe is scheduled to meet Oct. 15 with the South African National Editors Forum to address a number of issues including the Protection of Information Bill, Section 205 of the Criminal Procedure Act and relations between government and the media in general, according to a media report that also summarizes developments in the area..

Week of Action Planned

The Right2know Campaign is calling for a “Week of Action” from Oct. 19-27 to protest against the passing of the POI bill, including marches in several cities.

The Right2know Campaign, launched on the Aug. 31, is a broad civil society coalition of over 370 organizations.

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