A governing partner of South Africa’s ANC criticised a state secrecy bill the ruling party rammed through parliament over provisions it said could allow corruption to fester.
The protest from powerful labour federation COSATU could hurt President Jacob Zuma whose African National Congress relies on the group as a vote-generating machine, and will seek its support in his bid for reelection as party leader next year.
“If we cannot persuade the government to withdraw the bill, we will launch an application to the Constitutional Court,” Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU’S general secretary, told reporters.
Parliament passed the Protection of Information Bill on Tuesday despite criticism at home and abroad that it harks back to apartheid legislation and makes it easier for corrupt officials to conceal graft, Reuters reports.
The media has criticised the legislation as an attempt to silence whistleblowers and muzzle investigative journalists, who now face up to 25 years in jail for revealing state secrets.
Vavi said the bill gives too wide a scope for what information can be classified and does not provide adequate checks and balances to ensure that information is kept secret to protect the state, and not corrupt politicians.
COSATU, with about 2 million members, was a powerful force in bringing down apartheid and has been in a governing alliance with the ANC since the end of white-minority rule in 1994.
The bill has a broad definition of information needing protection and gives great authority on classification to State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, who faced calls to resign after his wife was convicted in May of running an international drugs ring. He said he was unaware of her criminality.
The measure coincides with concerns about growing cronyism under Zuma and a downgrade of South Africa’s outlook by ratings agency Moody’s, which said this month that it was worried about increasing government interference in Africa’s largest economy.
The bill needs to pass a few more procedural hurdles before becoming law. The ANC has shown no indication of revisiting the bill, which rights group Amnesty International called “fatally flawed” and Human Rights Watch said “was a blow to freedom”.
The ANC, which has virtual one-party rule, has said the bill is essential for protecting state information and keeping spies at bay.