No less than 15 civil society organisations submitted public comment on the new Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill, discussed for the first time this year on Wednesday by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police.
Committee chairman Francois Beukman said the new legislation was important as it was replacing “an apartheid era Act (the National Key Points Act)” adding the level of interest shown was commensurate with what was “important legislation”.
The committee will, according to Beukman, follow a thorough process to ensure the legislation produced is constitutional, a point raised by the majority of submissions to the committee. No names are given of organisations that made submissions but the Right2Know (R2K) campaign issued a statement after its presentation to the committee.
“We are only at the start of the process. Nothing can be said now but if there is a necessity to make changes, those would be done at the right time.”
According to Parliament’s communications service the police Portfolio Committee will be continuing public hearings on the Critical Infrastructure Protection Amendment bill next week. This is expected to be among committee meetings either before or after next Thursday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), which signifies the official commencement of Parliamentary business for the year.
Among objections raised by R2K are that the new legislation will promote secrecy and undermine accountability. The organisation points out the new legislation could ban photographing or recording any aspect of a site declared “critical infrastructure”.
“This could make it a crime to take a selfie at Parliament, OR Tambo International Airport or the SABC,” R2K said in a statement.
Military analyst Helmoed Heitman points out there is definitely a need for infrastructure critical to the operation of the state and functioning of the economy to be protected.
“This is so not only in times of war, but also in supposed times of peace when assorted irregular forces, armed groups and even lone wolf actors can cause immense disruption and damage.
“Some seem to believe South Africa is immune – not a safe assumption.
“South Africa is ‘very western’ in the eyes of some extremists and is replete with potential targets, from ‘western’ embassies and High Commissions through to businesses, tourists and government facilities and installations.”
Among possible critical infrastructure can be listed airports; railway stations, lines and junctions’ power stations; dams; water treatment plants; radio and television stations; harbours; refineries and oil storage sites.