Jason Felix and Sapa
There were too many things going wrong in the country for critics of the Info Bill to be silenced, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils told protesters outside Parliament yesterday.
Kasrils joined 50 demonstrators from the Right to Know Campaign (R2K) camping outside the parliamentary gates in protest against the Protection of State Information Bill.
The R2K campaign has set up a tent at the Catholic Cathedral opposite Parliament and will be holding lunchtime pickets every day this week.
The bill is being finalised by a National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee, which is to vote on it clause-by-clause tomorrow before tabling it on Thursday.
“We should not just pretend a loyalty, grit our teeth and sit on our hands, but actually say to the government of the ANC – this applies to the SA Communist Party and the trade unions [as well] – that we are worried and we can see our people losing confidence in you,” Kasrils told protesters.
He still believed the bill was a “dog’s breakfast”.
“I want to commend Right to Know for creating this campaign against all sorts of insults, even to the extent of saying they are doing the work of foreign spies and agents, so bankrupt have some of the people been that have been pushing for this bill,” he said.
Kasrils wanted a public interest defence included in the bill to protect those who leak government wrongdoing.
“We are getting even more concerned because it [the bill] has tended to create the suspicion that perhaps the reason is not to protect the sovereignty and constitution of our country, but rather to hide many of the growing number of things that come to embarrass you because you have lost the way,” he said.
Kasrils said he had not given up on the ANC, and its alliance partners, but was worried about where it was headed.
R2K national co-ordinator Mark Weinberg said: “We have been fighting this bill since it was proposed. We will do whatever it takes to make a change.”
Cape Times executive editor Alide Dasnois told the gathering the bill did not only affect journalists but everybody. “Without the right to know, we have no rights. We can't fight for jobs, for housing, against poverty, we can’t work out who pays what and to whom. The right to know is the most fundamental of all rights.”
Dasnois said thanks to enormous public pressure from a wide range of organisations, Parliament had made good progress in rendering the bill a little less dangerous.
“Then along came Minister Cwele and he decided to reverse a lot of the progress that has been made. “
Last month, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele suggested that the Secrecy Bill should override the Promotion of Access to Information Act when the two laws were in conflict.
He also argued that the power to classify secrets should be given to all police officers and soldiers.