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Had it not been for the media and whistle-blowers, many instances of corruption would not have been exposed, the National Press Club (NPC) said on Tuesday.
The Protection of State Information Bill in its present form would lead to wide classification of information, NPC chairman Yusuf Abramjee told a public hearing on the draft legislation in Mamelodi, outside Pretoria.
“The bill in its current form is clearly open to abuse. It provides for wide-ranging powers, relating to the classification (of information),” said Abramjee.
“Officials, including junior civil servants and members of security services, are authorised to classify documents with the head of departments.”
Abramjee said this was in conflict with another clause in the bill which stipulated that classification had to be done on a senior level. Whistle-blowers were going to be scared “to lift the lid on corruption”, fearing long jail terms.
He appealed to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) to consider including a public interest clause in line with the dictates of the Constitution.
“We cannot sit back and allow unconstitutional laws to be passed. Editors and journalists are prepared to go to jail defending our freedom,” said Abramjee.
Another contributor, Amos Mkhontho, said that as a member of the ANC's MK Veterans he believed the bill, if passed, would take South Africa backwards.
“Do you still remember those days we used to read newspapers hiding under carpets? We do not want those days to come again. Look at countries like Zimbabwe who have such laws. Their people have fled to our country.”
Most of those participating in the hearing took the opportunity to voice problems with service delivery around Mamelodi.
“Our identity documents show that we have voted continually. Our lives are not evident of people enjoying democracy,” said one woman to the applause of the floor.
Residents gradually filled and eventually packed the church hall where the hearings took place.
Two public hearings on the so-called secrecy bill are scheduled in Gauteng. The second takes place in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging. – Sapa