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Cape Town -
Jubilant ANC MPs passed the Protection of State Information Bill, with proposed amendments, in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Thursday with a tally of 34 votes in favour and 16 against – from Cope, the ID, IFP and DA.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele berated civil society and opposition parties for misinforming rural people and the poor about the contentious bill.
He said those opposing it had not told South Africans that the bill was “in fact, more progressive than any other act anywhere else in the world that governs the protection of classified information”.
Cwele dismissed opposition parties and their supporters as people who often had dual citizenship, thus making them less dependent on the South African state for security, and accused opposition parties of opting for the “cheap politics of walkouts” when they “ran out of all logical arguments”.
He said opposition parties had also continuously moved the goalposts.
Social Development MEC Albert Fritz, speaking on behalf of Premier Helen Zille, warned MPs that what happened in Zimbabwe – in relation to repressive abuse of state resources in that country by its securocrats – would happen in South Africa and it would be indiscriminate in affecting champions of the bill.
“If I was a journalist today, I would fear for my life,” he said.
After his ANC colleagues rallied behind him and the bill during the long debate, a confident Cwele returned to the podium slamming the behaviour of the DA during the legislative process as “strange and schizophrenic”.
Dismissing Fritz – who left the chamber after his speech – as the “Honourable Hit-and-Run”, Cwele accused him of creating a lot of “misconception”.
Cwele said the ANC had been “accommodative” of the views of the public and had spared no effort “to accommodate” all political parties as a consensus-building mechanism.
“Remember the objective of the bill is to protect national security and the secret information we have to advance our national interests – it is not to protect the criminals who steal state resources from being prosecuted,” he said.
“Let me assure you again that this bill does not permit the abuse of power. Further, let me assure you that this government would not support a bill that undermines our constitution, and which does not strike a balance between secrecy and transparency.”
The Right2Know campaign, a civil society coalition, said it got hold of a “briefing” note handed out to MPs as they entered the NCOP chamber, which claimed to debunk “The 10 myths about the Protection of State Information Bill”.
The campaign said through a post on its website: “There is no acknowledged author, no logo. No sense of whether public funds allocated to Parliament were used to produce it – or worse, whether or not it had been anonymously authored by representatives of the Department of State Security to try sway a vote in Parliament or change the discourse in Parliament. That would be extremely troubling, so we hope not.”
DA MP Alf Lees, who had tried to prevent the debate from taking place on procedural grounds, pleaded with MPs not to vote in favour of the bill.
“That this [debate] is allowed to happen shows the ANC’s contempt for Parliament as a democratic institution and for its core responsibilities as a legislature and for overseeing executive action,” he said in a statement issued before the debate.
The bill will now be referred back to the National Assembly which will decide next year whether to accept or reject the amendments proposed by the NCOP.