Protection of Information bill- opinions from our experts
2011-11-28

Prof. Hussein Solomon
Senior Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of the Free State. 

In recent years, given their failure to effectively govern, the ANC has become increasingly defensive. These defensive traits have become particularly acute in light of the various corruption scandals that members of the ruling party involve themselves in.
 
Given the fact that for now they are assured of an electoral majority (largely on account of their anti-apartheid credentials), coupled with the fact that they have managed to make parliament a rubber stamp of the executive as opposed to holding the executive accountable, it is the media which has increasingly held the ruling party to account by exposing such corruption and incompetence in government.
 
The passing of the information bill, therefore, is not merely an attack on the media, but an attack on the pivotal issue of accountability. Without accountability, there can be no democracy.
 
By defining national interest broadly, by refusing to accept a public interest clause in the bill, the ANC increasingly shows its disdain to South Africa's constitution and its citizens.
 
More importantly, as former Minister of Intelligence and ANC stalwart Ronnie Kasrils pointedly makes clear, the ANC is also betraying its own noble struggle against the odious apartheid regime. It was the media which played a key role in exposing apartheid's excesses, it is the same media which is coming under attack by the heirs of PW Botha's State Security Council - Minister of State Security Siyabong Cwele and his security apparatchiks whose mindsets reflect more Stalin's Gulag's than the values of the Freedom Charter.
 
The passing of this bill is also taking place at a time when journalists have had their phones attacked, where the judiciary has been deliberately undermined and parliament silenced.
 
Democrats beware!

 
Prof. Johann de Wet
Chairperson: Department of Communication Science 
 
The ANC’s insistence on passing the Protection of State Information Bill in its current form and enforcing it by law, means that the essence of our democratic state and the quality of life of every citizen is at stake.
 
Yes, our freedom as academics, researchers, mass media practitioners and citizens comes into play. Freedom implies the right to choose and is, along with equality, an underlying principle which helps make democracy happen. While the South African state needs to protect (classify) information which could threaten its security and/or survival, the omission of a public interest clause in the Bill at this stage effectively denies a citizen the right to freedom of information.
 
 Freedom of information, along with press freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and religious freedom, are essential to democracy. These freedoms are granted because they conform to basic liberal ideas associated with (Western) democracy and which resonate with South Africa’s liberal constitution, such as (1) belief in the supreme value of the individual (and thus not of the state); (2) belief that the individual has natural rights (rights which belong to all human beings by nature – such as the right to life and to control government)) which exist independently of government, and which ought to be protected by and against government; and (3) recognition of the supreme value of the individual. 
 
One wonders how many cases of South African government corruption and mismanagement would have been uncovered by investigative journalists over the past number of years if this Bill in its current form was on the statute books. This Bill represents a backward step from the promise of democracy of having an informed public. The former National Party government had similar laws in place and one does not want to go there again. The infamous Information Scandal in South Africa of some thirty years ago, or Muldergate as it has come to be known, reminds one of what governments can do when it works clandestinely.
 
What South Africans need, is more information on what government structures are doing and how they are doing it with taxpayers’ money, not less information. While information in itself does not equal communication or dialogue, it is an indispensable part thereof, and the need for dialogue based on verifiable information is urgent for meeting vexed challenges facing South African communities. Academics in all fields of specialisation are constantly in need of untainted information to pursue answers and/or offer solutions to where South Africa should be moving in all spheres of life.

FACULTY CONTACT

T: +27 51 401 2240 or humanities@ufs.ac.za

Postgraduate:
Marizanne Cloete: +27 51 401 2592

Undergraduate:
Katlego Mabulana: +27 51 401 2495
Juanita Hlongwane: +27 51 401 3269

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