It is almost unbelievable that the political party which, 20 years ago, was still an organisation engaged in a “liberation struggle”, could suffer from amnesia to the extent that it has voted for the passing of the Protection of Information BIll (better known as the “secrecy bill”) in Parliament. Unbelievable, because during the struggle against apartheid its “battle-cry” definitely included the words “freedom” or “liberty”, and if there is one thing that is seriously threatened by this law, if it should pass the other crucial stages before being implemented, it is freedom, notably freedom of expression.
This is no trifling matter, because freedom of expression is enshrined in our “progressive” Constitution — which has received acknowledgement as such from many quarters, globally, since 1994. This fact gives one every reason to hope that challenging it (as the DA has indicated it would do if it passed the next stage) in the Constitutional Court would lead to its swift demise, but even if it can indeed be consigned to oblivion in that manner, it does not diminish the complete STUPIDITY of ANC parliamentarians in voting for the bill on November 22.
As I have already said, this reflects acute memory loss regarding the ANC’s “freedom-struggle” history, but it also serves notice to the rest of the world that what has been regarded (not entirely justifiably, I would argue) as a “model” democracy, which managed to obviate a bloody civil war through negotiations, is far less of a democracy than the world has imagined. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that the so-called “free world” will eye South Africa with great suspicion from now on, UNLESS the ANC, or the “inner circle” of the ANC — wherever power may reside in the organisation — comes to its senses very swiftly, and terminates the passage of the bill before it even goes to the National Council of Provinces.
What puzzles me is the obtuseness on the part of ANC lawmakers — do they really think that putting such a law on the books would have no negative international repercussions regarding South Africa’s reputation? Are they really blind enough to think that this will NOT give strong impetus to accelerating Afro-pessimism regarding South Africa on the part of the rest of the world? I already know of some people overseas who have remarked that South Africa has finally shown its true colours, as being part of a continent which cannot rid itself of the political pathology of dictatorship in one guise or another.
Moreover, does the ANC really believe justifying this law in terms of the need to have legislation to protect what may legitimately be regarded as “state secrets” is tenable? My friends in law studies tell me that existing laws are quite adequate to prosecute anyone who is suspected of spilling the beans on some state secrets or confidential matters which truly pertain to the country’s “security”. Has the ANC forgotten that the notorious McCarthy-era practice of blacklisting everyone suspected of having ties with communism in the US in the mid-20th century was justified by “security” concerns? And I am sure that the concept of security has been abused by politicians in many other ways.
It is clear that the proposed legislation is aimed at the media, and even if one does not really have an axe to grind with the ANC, chances are that the many voices that have pointed out its (the law’s) probable connection with media successes in exposing corrupt behaviour of various shades on the part of politicians and their cronies (in the corporate world, perhaps) have been spot-on. Here again, I cannot believe the ANC’s stupidity in thinking that their real intent can be covered up — if the media (newspapers, radio, television), which are no angels, by the way (but are necessary as “watchdogs”), are guilty of slander regarding any politician (or anyone else), or of irresponsible reporting of genuinely “security-sensitive” material (which is not in the public interest to know), there are laws enabling the state to prosecute those in the media who may be guilty of such practices.
And to cover their own backsides, those in the ANC who have supported this bill are prepared to sacrifice the good standing that South Africa has had, since 1994, in the eyes of the rest of the world. All those South Africans — including myself — who were openly opposed to apartheid and its draconian laws against freedom of expression, have every right to feel betrayed by an organisation that was party to the formulation and acceptance of our Constitution, and which has just turned its back on that very Constitution.
Finally, the ANC has been stupid enough to demonstrate, by its continued determination to pass the secrecy bill, that — contrary to its claims — it does not really represent the interests of South Africa’s citizens, but only the interests of those politicians who stand to benefit from the bill’s protection, that is, its ability to hide any possible corrupt activities on their part. If it really represented the country’s citizens, it would take note of the many protests that have been staged all over the country, or (to put it differently) it would be willing to call a referendum to test the support of South Africans for such a law. But it knows full well what the outcome of such a referendum would be. Unfortunately South Africa has become a shining example of what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (in Multitude, 2005) describe as the “crisis of representation” that is growing worldwide. Here, too, the governing party shows its stupidity — what has been happening in Arab countries north from here should be a warning to them that citizens will not continue, docilely, to accept arrogant acts of oppression from governments. For this is what the secrecy bill ultimately amounts to: an act of oppression.