THE SECRECY BILL- silencing government whistleblowers and vying for corruption.
\Despite nationwide attempts to delay the passing of the dreaded Secrecy Bill-it has been passed. Black Tuesday could forever mark a day in South African history, where the little preserved democracy thus far, especially within the media was eradicated, if the secrecy Bill is legislated next year. The paced race at passing the bill certainly raised eyebrows, considering its repulsive implications to the South African constitution and the public domain.
Yes, it still needs to go to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) next year, where it could meet amendments but as attorney Webber Wentzel told the Eyewitness News, that although the (NCOP) are entitled to suggest amendments to the Bill and also reject it, the National Assembly is not bound by that at all. The final say lies with the President, whose signature on the Bill will officially make the Bill part of South African Constitution. Considering the Bill passed by a 229 votes to 107 oppositions, with 2 abstentions in the 400 member House Of Parliament, it is highly unlikely that the bill will fail to get the President‘s signature.
The implications of the Bill is what the public should be made aware of in order to continue rejecting the passing of the Bill or at least join the likes of Lindiwe Mazibuko next year at the Constitution Court, should the Bill be legislated. What the media and civil organisations are now advocating for, is to have the Bill include a public interest defence, which it currently does not have, as enshrined in state secrecy legislation in Canada. Such a defence would enable journalists and others who publish classified information under pain of prison to argue in mitigation, that they had done so in the public interest. Otherwise, if constitutionalised as it is, any organ of the state, from the largest government department down to the smallest municipality will be able to classify any document as secret. This would then criminalise whistle blowers and journalist for possession and publication of classified information for which they will face a 25 year jail term.
Stephan Hofstatter of Sunday Times’ team who helped take Bheki Cele down told the dailymaverick, that he believes the secrecy bill “ has been a calculated move to intimidate insiders and sources within government, the ANC and its alliance partners who provide journalists with information or documentary evidence of corruption”. According to Timeslive, the Bill “was drafted to replace apartheid-era legislation dating from 1982, but critics say it marks a shameful return to excessive state secrecy less than two decades into democracy”. Echoing the same fears, Desmond Tutu, told the Eyewitness News, that he is concerned the so- called secrecy bill will make the state answerable only to the state and added that it will do the country a disservice. The anti-corruption populace; the whistleblowers together with investigative journalists, now face a threat of becoming criminals for exposing corruption within the government, all because of ‘Black Tuesday”.