The Right 2 Know Campaign, which advocates access to information and is against secrecy in government, has said it is concerned about people’s right to know in 2016 and called on South Africans to mobilise to defend and advance their rights this year given a number of issues facing the country, from the Arms Deal report to the nuclear deal signoff.
Right2Know (R2K) noted that in December 2015, just as the festive season hit full swing, Cabinet formally announced its approval to go ahead with the ‘Nuclear Deal’ procurement, to acquire nearly 10 gigawatts of nuclear power from Russia.
“It begs the question of how Cabinet approved the programme when former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and current Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have said Treasury will not support the Nuclear Deal if South Africa could not afford it. It is not clear how South Africa will find the hundreds of billions needed for such a deal, especially now that depreciation of the South African rand has made foreign procurement even more expensive,” R2K said.
“What guarantee do South Africans have that the tendering procedures will be “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective” when every decision taken around this project has been clouded by secrecy?”
On 30 December 2015, President Zuma received the final report of the Seriti Commission into the Arms Deal. “We call on the President to release the report without delay. However, mounting concerns at the Seriti Commission’s deeply flawed process leave little hope that the Commission will get to the bottom of widespread allegations of corruption in the Arms Deal. This included a string of resignations among Commission staff, the withdrawal of vital witnesses, and the Commission’s refusal to admit key documents as evidence,” R2K said.
The organisation noted that the right to organise, protest and speak out is central to all struggles for social justice. “It is also a central pillar of freedom of expression. We have seen a general rise in intolerance towards protest in recent years, and this will likely escalate in the lead-up to the Local Government Elections in the coming months.
“In the short term, we can expect further clampdowns at university campuses in the coming weeks, as police have promised that they are “ready for action” in anticipation of further action by #FeesMustFall and allied student groupings. In November, acting national commissioner of police Kgomotso Phahlane promised Parliament that SAPS would increase intelligence gathering on student movements in anticipation of further action. We call on government and university administrations to respect students’ right to dissent and to engage meaningfully with their concerns instead of attempting further clamp-downs,” R2K said.
Another issue raised by the campaign was the issue of securitisation which it said would continue to feature in 2016, with the security agencies playing an increasingly visible role in policing the boundaries of democratic politics.
“Last year this manifested in a series of chaotic events in Parliament, and several public complaints of surveillance against activists, unionists, journalists and political figures. This trend is sure to continue in the absence of the oversight that should be provided by an Inspector General of Intelligence. This watchdog body, which has a mandate to keep the security structures in check, has been without a head or acting head for ten months.
“Next month, the opening of Parliament may once again become a stage for some of these problems. The events of 2015, with “signal jamming” at the State of the Nation Address, riot police in the National Assembly, and Parliamentary staff undergoing invasive ‘security vetting’ to raise their security clearance to “Top Secret”, are a concern both for Parliament’s workers who fear intimidation, and for the broader public who need an democratic and open Parliament. Some of these matters are before the courts: a Constitutional Court decision is pending on the question of the use of riot police in the National Assembly, and the question of whether or not Parliament should have the right to censor its television feed or employ signal jamming is likely to be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2016.”
R2K predicted that tussles over media freedom will continue in 2016. “Last year South African internet users warded off two draft policies with serious implications for online freedom – draft Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill and the Film & Publications Board’s draft internet censorship regulations. While both draft policies weathered heavy criticism in the public comments phase, we will likely see this year whether this will have affected their course.
“In 2016 the question of the independence of the SABC will feature large, after the Minister of Communications tabled the Public Broadcasting Amendment Bill in Parliament. The Bill would shift even greater control of the broadcaster to the ministry.
“As the Local Government Elections loom in the next few months, the independence and freedom of community media organisations should receive special attention. These are the media organisations at the grassroots – often far away from the urban centres of the country –who face the greatest pressure on their ability to tell the stories that ordinary South Africans have a right to know. These include economic pressures from large media organisations, which brought the attention of the Competitions Commission in 2015, to political pressures from local government and politicians.”