Education, rather than conflict, was needed over the Protection of State Information Bill, ANC member of the Western Cape provincial legislature Mcebisi Skwatsha told a public hearing on the bill in Gugulethu on Tuesday.
Skwatsha said research showed that less than 30 percent of South Africans knew about the bill.
“We don’t need to fight about this bill; what we need is to educate each other about it,” said Skwatsha.
MK Military Veterans Association Western Cape treasurer Themba Sidini told the hearing his party would kill for the bill.
“We as the MKMVA and the ANC will protect the bill, and if we have to spill blood for it then so will it be,” said Sidini to applause from ANC supporters.
Sidini said the bill was a cornerstone of the country’s democracy and that it sought to protect the country from undue foreign influences.
“Libya collapsed because it did not have a Protection of State Information Act,” he told the partially full Gugulethu Sport Complex.
Many speakers expressed their objection to the draft bill, with some calling for its immediate withdrawal, and even a referendum. They argued that the bill, in its current form, would shield corrupt government officials and leaders from exposure and that the law would take the country back to the repressive era of apartheid South Africa.
Speakers who identified themselves as ANC members were at pains to explain that the bill sought to prevent state security information from falling into the hands of foreign countries.
Equal Education’s Nokubonga Yawa said her NGO uses research, analysis and activism in its work of fighting for equal education across the board, and that it relied heavily on state information. “We are already struggling to obtain the necessary information from the Education Department; the law will make our work even more difficult,” she said.
Gugulethu resident Lungiswa Somlota said locals were not aware of the bill’s contents and this had led to a wide gap between them and their leaders.
“At the heart of the bill is rampant corruption, which concerns us because we are poor,” said Somlota. She added that the bill had a “deep” impact on the lives of the citizens. “We should never take our access to information for granted. We are being betrayed by those supposed to lead and feed our tummies.”
Some members of the community questioned the government’s intentions with the bill and cited increased exposure of corruption by the media and civil society. They said the bill had no place in a democracy and that the space should then be used to address their concerns about lack of housing in the province and the delivery of basic services such as clean, running water and security.
Raseriti Tau, chairman of the National Council of Provinces ad hoc committee which is conducting the hearings, said he was happy with the way it was going. Tau said the committee would engage in education drives because many residents did not know what the bill entailed.
Alf Lees, DA member of the ad hoc committee, said he hoped the feedback from across the country would further “embolden the NCOP committee to make substantive and meaningful amendments to the draft legislation”.
“The DA will also ensure that the call for a public interest defence, again echoed at today’s hearings, remains on the agenda when the committee prepares to tackle serious amendments to the bill.”
Parliament media manager Letebele Masemola-Jones said the hearings had been advertised on national and community radio, and in newspapers.
“Public education was conducted through a visit to Gugulethu Mall, where copies of the bill were distributed, and leaflets on the hearing venue, time and date left,” said Masemola-Jones.