The Protection of State Information Bill has the potential to create an “oppressive” apartheid-era style censorship, MPs heard in Cape Town on Tuesday. The public deserved access to the truth, Maropeng Moholoa told MPs on the National Council of Province’s ad hoc committee holding hearings into the draft Bill. The truth, the Capetonian said, often came through the media.
“We are the public, we need access to the truth and we get access to the truth through the media.” The hearing was attended by around 300 people at the Gugulethu Sport Complex, the South African Press Association reports. “The current Bill has the potential to create oppressive apartheid censorship.”
Moholoa said the media had exposed corruption committed by former police chief Jackie Selebi. “If we did not get anything from the media, we wouldn’t know what Tata Jackie Selebi did,” he said. Committee chair Raseriti Tau asked the audience not to be misled. “May I appeal to you… We are not dealing with a secrecy Bill. Anyone who speaks about a secrecy Bill is misleading you. The Bill we are dealing with is The Protection of State Information Bill,” he said. SAPA says the Bill is commonly known as the “secrecy Bill” as it outlaws the possession of classified information.
Tau said after the hearing, which was the first of a series of planned countrywide hearings, that there was a need to educate people on what the Bill was about. He suggested a two-page document summarising the Bill’s main aspects. The day began with many raising service delivery issues, instead of interrogating what the Bill was about, he said. Later however, people seemed to understand what was being dealt with.
Many of the speakers used their voice to criticise politicians for being aloof from their people, or for not delivering services. One speaker, Lungiswa Somlota, said a lack of knowledge among people about the proposed law had revealed a wide gap between people and their elected officials.
“We don’t know this Bill. The gap between us and our elected representatives is very wide. The connection is not there.” Somlota, reading from notes written in a black diary, said the Bill was not an ordinary one because it had a “deep” impact on people. “It has very crucial elements. We should never take our access to information for granted. We are being betrayed by those supposed to lead and feed our tummies.”
Matilda Groepe shouted into a roving microphone that if politicians had nothing to hide, there would not have been a need for a secrecy Bill. She asked what would happen if someone were ever a victim of police brutality. “They will say it is none of your business, there is protection of state information. I don’t feel honoured to have MPs here. They should engage with us at grass roots before passing laws like this.”
Outside the complex, Stanley Nzwane, a trolley pusher and cleaner in his 50s, shook his head when asked about the bill. “Politicians, they are all without God,” he said. “All of them. They don’t care what we say.” The SABC reported a low turn-out at the second set of hearings in Thembalethu, outside George in the Southern Cape. Locals in the area said they had not been informed about the process. NCOP Chief Whip, Nosipho Ntwanambi, said the hearings were advertised extensively in the media.
The opposition Democraic Alliance, which opposes the Bill, says the feedback “is a harsh wake up call for the ANC [African National Congress]. With some speakers calling for the withdrawal of the Bill and even a general referendum, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the ANC simply ignored or underestimated the public outcry over the legislation.
“Members of the community questioned government’s intentions with the Bill, referring to increasing exposure of corruption by the media and civil society. Some reflected on the antics of the Apartheid-era intelligence operatives and the hiding of information from the public at the time, juxtaposing the Bill against the freedoms we have obtained since 1994.
“We hope that the feedback from South Africans across the country will further embolden the NCOP committee to make substantive and meaningful amendments to the draft legislation.”