Motlanthe seeks to cool fears on secrecy Bill


Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has suggested the ruling party may yet heed calls from the media to write a public interest defence into the contested Protection of State Information Bill. Motlanthe said the argument was put to him by the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) that it would be up to the courts in every case to decide whether the defence held.

“If that is the understanding it creates the basis for a meeting point,” Motlanthe told reporters from Parliament’s Press Gallery Association. Media organisations and civil rights groups have vowed to launch a Constitutional Court challenge to the legislation if it were passed in its present form, the South African Press Association reports.

The ANC has steadfastly rejected all calls to include a clause that would enable people charged with disclosing classified information to argue that they had done so in the public interest. State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has gone as far as saying allowing a public interest defence would amount to shredding the Bill before it became law.

Motlanthe said it appeared that this was the main objection to the Bill, and tried to calm fears that the ANC would use its majority muscle to railroad the legislation through Parliament. “We will not use numbers to ram through willy-nilly any piece of legislation that does not comply with the Constitution.” He pointed out that the Bill still had to be approved by both houses of Parliament, and suggested that in the process greater consensus may be reached on the legislation. “Who knows it may actually be in a position where the Bill is not challengeable in any way.” he added.

As the Bill stands, disclosing classified information is a crime punishable with prison sentences ranging from five to 25 years, depending on the level of classification and whether espionage is involved. The Bill was scheduled for debate in the National Assembly in September but it was postponed at the last minute amid reports of a rift in the top echelons of the ANC over the legislation.