Tensions Arise Over Protests Against ANC Secrecy Bill

18 February 2011

Masks, a silent protest, a walk-out and rancorous counter-charges marked the week’s activity in South Africa surrounding the controversial Protection of Information Bill.

The week ended with criticism of the bill from U2 lead singer Bono.

Opposition party committee members charged that the ad hoc committee considering the bill lacked the technical approval to continue its deliberations and walked out of the Feb. 15 meeting. They left the meeting after arguing that according to Parliament’s rules the committee had ceased to exist last month.

At the same meeting, 5-10 protestors from the Right2Know Campaign wore masks to the committee meeting bearing the face of Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele, and held up several placards reading “Cwele, Minister of Secrets!”

The committee subsequently issued a statement condemning the protest, saying that the protesters were “extremely disrespectful to the institution of Parliament.” “If such grave misconduct as was displayed [on Tuesday] occurs again, parliament will not hesitate to ensure that the law takes its course,” it said.

The Campaign responded, stating in part, “Perhaps MPs should investigate the anti-democratic provisions of the Secrecy Bill, rather than investigating ordinary people who are committed to our democracy.”

A report by iol News  said:  “The opposition parties protested against what they called a ‘procedural travesty’ because of the way Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo had extended the lifespan of the committee.”  The report continued:

They argued that the committee had ceased to exist on January 28, and claimed that only a sitting of Parliament could have extended its lifespan, failing which a new ad hoc committee would have to be appointed.

This argument is supported by Parliamentary rules which state that an ad hoc committee ceases to exist if it has not completed its task by the set date.

But on January 28, Mfeketo granted an extension to March 31, saying her decision was subject to ratification by the House.

Another article on the week’s activity, by Glenda Davis, appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Bono Critical of POIB

Topping off the week’s events, U2 singer and activist Bono criticized the bill during an interview with the Mail & Guardian ahead of a meeting with President Jacob Zuma. The paper reported:

“Transparency, Bono argues, is at the heart of the development agenda. “This is more important in fighting poverty than anything else we do … it is a huge multiplier. We see corruption as a bigger killer than HIV/Aids, malaria [and] TB put together. Transparency is the vaccine and … the syringe [is] technology.”

Bono spoke about transparency surrounding extractive industries and the influence of China in Africa. Saying that China will pay attention to South Africa, Bono was quoted as stating:

I think they’ll take the lead from President Zuma — I think they will watch him, I think they would rather an African-led EITI than perhaps the West-led. I think African leadership is going to be transformed, and I think there’s a big global win for President Zuma; precisely because South Africa straddles two worlds it can lead. He would be the only voice the Chinese would really listen to.

Of the POIB, Bono said:  “It is extremely alarming and runs completely against the tide of what is happening in North Africa, in the streets of Cairo.”  He also said: “I don’t believe South Africa would want to be on the wrong side of history. The direction of history is the direction of openness, open architecture, open society … it is impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube, so don’t try, just be really open.”

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