William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

The ANC: Standing on the shoulders of pygmies

How inspiring it is to watch one generation building on the achievements of another. In this case, an African National Congress (ANC) government embracing the jurisprudence of secrecy so finely spun by its predecessors, the National Party (NP).

One can just imagine the worried frowns in President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet when City Press revealed that R238-million of public funds was to be spent tarting up his Nkandla compound. Embarrassing profligacy in economically straitened times, especially as Zuma manoeuvres for a second term.

So, given that anti-media legislation is stalled, what is the cabinet to do? Up shoots former Nat leader Marthinus Van Schalkwyk, knees knocking imperceptibly below the hem of his khaki shorts. “I think I might have the solution’, he fawns, “in the old days we had a law … and best of all, it has never been repealed.”

Oh, and what a law the National Key Points Act of 1980 is. It made it a criminal offence to report about any “premises, building, installation, industrial complex, soil or water surface” that had been designated a National Key Point (NKP).

Cannily, there would be no actual list of designated NKPs for journalists to consult. The only way to identify one was to “approach, inspect, pass over, be in the neighbourhood of, or enter” and see what happened next.

Anything, anytime, anywhere – civilian or government, proactively or retrospectively – could on the say-so of an ancient regime defence minister be declared an NKP.

Despite Nkandla often having been in the news, at the wave of a new South Africa police minister’s hand a dusty outpost could transmogrify into a state secret, Kortbroek enthused.

And so it came to pass. The government declared Nkandla an NKP, subject to blanket secrecy, and that the police would investigate how City Press had obtained “top secret” information.

The useful aspect to the Zuma government’s determination to bring back the past – NKPs, teargassing and shooting the disaffected, and harassing journos – is that the old stuff becomes useful again: flack jackets, gas masks, a bad attitude to authority, and, in my case, a well-worn copy of Kelsey Stuart’s The Newspaperman’s Guide to the Law, disinterred from dusty storage.

In this out-of-print classic, circa the grim 1980s, the great defender of press freedom is scathing about the vagueness of NKP legislation, which if challenged today would assuredly fail Constitutional challenge.

The Act, for example, does not define what it means “to approach” or “to inspect” an NKP. It is “similarly silent on the degree of intensity of gaze which distinguishes mere looking at an NKP and inspecting it”, Stuart writes drily.

Stuart notes that, as City Press now knows, a journalist could write “without having the faintest idea that they are writing about an NKP, or that they are using information … in a way that some official may judge to be prejudicial to the safety or interests of the Republic.”

The NKP Act has, in fact, been used at least twice since 1994, according to the Right2Know campaign. in 2003 it was used to arrest strikers demonstrating outside Cape Town airport – although they were not prosecuted – and in 2007 to deny permission to the Treatment Action Campaign for a demonstration near the Reserve Bank.

The most recent usage, to stymie embarrassing media reports and to flush out whistleblowers is an unhappy escalation. That’s the authoritarian streak in any government: have legislation, will use it.

But the NKP legislation might be less useful than Zuma’s securocrats think. Stuart in 1982 deals with the possible consequences of the state demanding a journalist disclose their source of information regarding an NKP, a contravention punishable with up to three years in jail.

“Interestingly, it is not an offence to fail, refuse or neglect to respond to the minister’s order,” writes Stuart. “Ironically, a journalist could protect his sources of information simply by refusing to comply”.

A full 30 years on, it is a ploy that City Press might yet have to resort to.

Given the ANC’s growing penchant for media curbs, it may be time for an updated edition of Stuart’s legal gem.

Referenced: The Newspaperman’s Guide to the Law, Kelsey Stuart, Butterworths, 1982

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  • The weakness of the ANC
  • Part 6 of 6: Speeches
  • Part 5 of 6: Plenary
  • Part 4 of 6: Caucus
    • The Critical Cynic

      @Dave Harris
      You correctly point out that “The beneficiaries of apartheid and centuries of colonialism are sitting on 80% of prime real estate and still dominate over 80% of top CEO positions in the corporate sector…… Need I say more?”

      Actually I think you need to say a lot more, because this is the kind of statement that is as potentially misleading as quoting statistics. The reality is that the BOA’s you refer to here are still a very small “elite” and they are only loosely aligned to or affiated to the majority of white people *(beyond using their common skin colour to their advantage whenever they can), who are, like the majority of black, coloured, and asian people in this country, just ordinary people trying to make their way through each day as best they can.

      Worldwide the power is in very few hands, and is currently being shared with a similalrly small number of black political hands in this country who are benefitting handsomely thank you! The majority of the people do not matter to these elite beyond their profit potential. I predict one day you will also refer to these elite people as BOEA’s or Beneficiaries Of Economic Apartheid, (a system way older than SA Apartheid) or BOPs (Beneficiaries of Position) where nepotism and cronyism rules.

      There’s good reasoning behind sayings like “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” that you seem to be deliberately ignoring in your world view, especially regarding the ANC elite.

    • http://www.southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      @The Critical Cynic
      Pointing to the “tiny black elite” and blaming government corruption for all our problems is a DA tactic to deflect attention from the real cause of our problems – the unwillingness of the beneficiaries of apartheid to let go of their spoils of apartheid. The DA’s (NP-lite) hijacking of the role of opposition is the greatest danger to our democracy.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Dave – You sly old fox, you – I never had you pegged as a DA supporter! Do let Helen know you think her party’s in with a shout at the next election. It’ll mean a lot to her.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The beneficiaries of Apartheid and Colonialism in Southern Africa are the Tribal Chiefs of the Black Homelands who sit on half the farmland of Southern Africa and have been paid puppets of both white and black rulers for 150 years.

    • Tofolux

      @Charlotte, Frantz & Et al. Can I remind you that we live in a democracy and in a democracy our voices are allowed to be heard. In any case, instead of this midless insulting, why cant you engage with issues raised by myself, Dave and others. Unless it proves and confirms that you are unable to engage on this level and because you lack this comprehension the only form of retaliating is to insult. wow!

    • chincherin chee

      Did I hear right! President Zuma yesterday on TV asking executives and managers of the public and private sectors, in the interests of our ailing economy, to freeze salaries and not award increases!
      Why doesn’t he start with himself and his cronies? Why doesn’t he freeze – even cut -his own salary? And more importantly, why didn’t he stop plans to upgrade Nkandla to the tune of 230 million rand and what about Zumaville?

      More than ever (as is in the USA), there should be public debate between the various S.African political parties, so that the public can get to know what their policies are, what plans they have and how they intend to implement them.
      Instead of which, Zuma has just chickened out of a debate requested by Helen Zille.

      Of course, there are other political parties too. Let’s hear what they have to say; and let’s hope for a strong opposition coalition.
      If the 2million people who have taken part in protests during the last year, would vote for any other party except the ANC (as well they should) – this country has a chance.

      After 18 years of ANC rule, we are in the dwang. The longer the ANC is at the helm, the worse the situation in the country gets… rampant governmental corruption and ineffiency, service non-delivery, Marikana, violent strikes, unemployment, drugs, gangsterism ….

    • The Critical Cynic

      @Dave H
      i partially agree with you here – “Pointing to the “tiny black elite” and blaming government corruption for all our problems is a DA tactic to deflect attention from the real cause of our problems – the unwillingness of the beneficiaries of apartheid to let go of their spoils of apartheid…..””

      It is a political tactic, not exclusive to the DA and being used by most of the opposition parties (in fact they are almost sounding the same with their condemnation of corruption and graft), the most vocal and visible proponents being the DA, with the largest number of voters after the ANC which makes them the official opposition in our political dispensation – you’ve had this pointed out to you before, why persist with saying they are hijacking this role? – and in a strong democracy we want a vocal opposition – and they should be vocal when they are opposing some action of the governing, not ruling, party.

      But you are making complexity sound simple in saying “the unwillingness of the beneficiaries of apartheid to let go of their spoils of apartheid” – it’s largely the truth, but we should really narrow down our definition of BOA’s and look at who has and is benefitting, how they benefitted , and when. Do this and you will start to see why I say the Currently Disadvantaged are the ones needing upliftment.

      Saying “The DA’s (NP-lite) hijacking of the role of opposition is the greatest danger to our democracy” is rot. Keeping the ANC in power is far worse!

    • Lennon

      @ Dave Harris: Who are these beneficiaries? Give us a list of names.

    • http://google jim smoke

      @ Dave Harris, uncle Dave, how come you don,t see that the 2nd law of thermodynamics has the a.n.c. viced in it’s grip where usable energy is being lost,increased deterioration, randomness, disorganization and chaos. The D.A. on the other hand.are able to violate this law of entropy. What would you call that? a miracle, or is it simply organized, effective work ethic aimed at doing what is right; fair and just. Everything living, that has not reached it’s pinnacle is in violation to this law until the pinnacle is reached, then disorder and nature set in. Three questions uncle David.1 has the a.n.c. reached or exceeded it’s pinnacle? 2 Does the a.n.c need life in it’s dead d.n.a? Or does the a.n.c need a miracle? If you say no,no,no. then you must be stupid to the degree that if i pee on your head you’ll think it’s raining.

    • Charlotte

      @ jim smoke
      Please jim, pee on his head tomorrow. He is going to say ‘no, no, no’ and it is going to rain tomorrow anyway …
      In any case, he’s unlikely to know the difference.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      More on how the ANC is standing on the shoulders of apartheid pygmies:


    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      @Critical Cynic I can’t understand how you can give legitimacy to a white tribal DA minority party, dominated by BOAs who see no problem with fronting and are solely concerned with clinging to the spoils of apartheid. An opposition party is representative of the countries racial demographics and has a working relationship with the party in power. Ever seen Zille shake the President”s hand?

      @Lennon Look in the mirror and you will see one of the names on that list you are so desperate to compile. ntw. Dictators love lists!

    • Max

      Dave Harris wonders blindly: “Ever seen Zille shake the President”s hand?”

      Um, yes actually:


      Dance together too:


    • http://google jim smoke

      @ Dave Harris, uncle David, there are more Pedi’s than Portuguese on the D.A. bus. Have you attempted to recognize you emotional disorder of Passive Aggression yet , or are you going to try ignore the obvious as usual. From a beneficiary of hard, honest work. No slaves required.

    • http://www.southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      Ever since Zuma’s election, I’ve been publicly complaining about Zille’s inability to congratulate Zuma on his victory. This recent, albeit rare, handshake pic is long overdue, although I’m still not convinced about your “dancing together” claim. I only hope that the DA can let go of their self-proclaimed title of “opposition party” and their disgusting, divisive politics to let our democracy naturally evolve into a true vibrant multiparty democracy where the opposition party is not hijacked by a white tribal minority.

      @jim smoke
      I’d suggest you low that some elsewhere. Fronting the DA is shameful.

    • Max

      @Dave Virus

      You are not convinced by my “dancing together” claim even though the evidence is as clear as day right in front of your eyes.
      This is emblematic of your thinking style though, isn’t it Harris?
      Your opinions, assertions and pronouncements hold true for you no matter how glaringly obvious are the facts that contradict your assertions. This is what makes you a fanatic extremist quite out of touch with reality.

    • Marianne

      Dave Harris, you have a problem with Helen Zille not shaking Jacob Zuma’s hand?

      Personally, I would have a problem with Zille if she DID find it easy to shake the hand of someone I consider to have no moral integrity and who is guilty of unethical behaviour.

    • Lennon

      @ Dave Harris: I looked. Don’t see any names.

      Lists are also lived by anyone with a lot of shopping to be done.

    • Lennon

      Meant to say used by anyone….. Grrrr.

    • David

      Lennon. You’re not suggesting dictators do the shopping? Heavens 😉

    • Noob

      Erm….an opposition party is, by definition, a political party that runs against the ruling party in a constitutional democracy.
      This is what opposition means, right?
      No proclaiming, self or otherwise, is necessary.

      Otherwise they would be just be another wing of the ANC: the Sycophant Party, ANC Lite, or something – we already have some of those around

      It would seem that some people either want a one part state where alternative points of view are simply not tolerated, or, in Harris’s case, prefer to the dictate the policies and hand pick leaders and voters for the opposition in accordance with their view of the world.

      That’s quite bizarre and frankly, delusional.

    • The Critical Cynic

      I’m going to get a tad cynical and controversial here for the ANC sycophant Dave Harris who says..
      “…I can’t understand how you can give legitimacy to a white tribal DA minority party, dominated by BOAs who see no problem with fronting and are solely concerned with clinging to the spoils of apartheid….”

      Well, I see a tribal minoriity of avaristic ANC ‘top dogs’ and the repeat beneficiaries of BEE deals very much in the same camp as the BOA’s you keep refering to, in fact, in a cynical and obtuse way, THEY TOO ARE BOA’s. Apartheid motivated many of the current ANC elite to join the struggle and by their struggle ‘credentials’ those that made it through to CODESA and beyond, those who have benefitted [often repeadedly] through BEE and through cadre deployment are all indirectly now BOA’s (or to be more specific BOPA’s – Beneficiaries of Post Apartheid).

      Here’s the thing – we can drag the past through the history filters as much as we want by harping on about BOA’s and PDI’s when we know full well that looking backwards doesn’t change the present, and presently we have an enormous number of people in SA (citizens, residents or not) who are CURRENTLY DISADVANTAGED.

      So Dave Harris, just as you can’t understand me, I “…can’t understand how you can give legitimacy to a black tribal ANC Majority party, dominated by Corrupt BOPAs who also see no problem with tender fronting and are solely concerned with grabbing the spoils of apartheid for…

    • Chronicled

      @ The Critical Cynic
      You express so well what so many of us feel. Thank you.

    • Mr. Direct

      Surely these sinister apartheid laws should have been removed, Government should have done this in 1994 already.

      The fact it still sits in the law books must be because of:
      1. Benefits to the South African population
      2. Premeditiation to deceive the electorate
      3. Incompetence

      At this point in time, I am not sure which of the three it is, but I cannot see how hiding financial spending on a private residence for the benefit of governmental/presidential reputation has any benefit to the general population.

      Give us the facts so that we all know what the real story is – sweeping it all under the table is an insult.

      Oh, and I guess I am a BOA because I was forced to go to a government school against my will, forced to go to the SA(N)DF against my will, and forced to work (else starve). So glad I was born with this white skin. I do not think I had a choice on that either, so in honesty, I hated the racial stereotyping back pre 1994, and I do not like it now either. Seems we replace one racist regime for another, and do not learn anything from our past….