“This law is rotten. Don’t pass it … “
So says K Boonzaier of Woodstock in one of the 259 written submissions to Parliament’s ad hoc committee dealing with the Protection of State Information Bill.
“Is the bill not going to rob my child’s future of a right to know? Did we not fight hard enough?” asks Zoliswa Kewute in an e-mail, while Phumza Somlota of Khayelitsha writes: “If it is passed, it means we are going back to the apartheid era.”
Ordinary citizens from across the spectrum have added their voices – some in handwritten letters, others in single sentences – to the tide of resistance to the bill, sometimes known as the Secrecy Bill.
They include pensioners, lawyers, academics, nuns, trade unions, media and youth groups and human rights activists – and even people from places like the Just Plants Nursery and The Sandwich Shop.
The submissions show that many South Africans have a clear understanding of the bill and its implications.
Among the organisations that have sent submissions are the SA National Editors’ Forum, the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the SA Human Rights Commission and the Public Protector.
The written submissions – contained in three heavy tomes – range from passionate one-liners to lengthy legal analyses.
Many voiced particular exception to the absence in the bill of a public-interest defence for journalists and other whistle-blowers on corruption if they put classified information in the public domain.
One submission registers the concerns of 78 people from Pietermaritzburg who attended a briefing by parliamentary representatives on the bill in January.
“We cannot understand why any other state department (besides the security sector) in a normal democratic society would feel compelled to apply for classification of any of its documents,” says the group.
Another written submission - representing 5 479 members of the independent rural women’s trade union, Sikhula Sonke - puts the case for protecting whistle-blowers.
“1994 was an exciting year for most farm worker families… and 17 years down the line, we are smacked with a state information bill… The irony is that the same people implementing this bill are those that were against secrecy in the years of apartheid,” says Sikhula Sonke general secretary Patricia Dyata.
“I believe that a free press is the fourth pillar of a healthy democracy. For this reason I would like to add my name to the list of those against the proposed Information Bill,” states Polo Moji of Johannesburg.
“Doesn’t this go against everything we’ve built up so far?’’ writes Nic Yiallouris.
“Would Nelson Mandela ever have tried to do this?’’ writes Chris Williamson.
“I’m a professional young woman in the public sector… It’s not rocket science the ANC is trying to cover up its incompetence and corruption,” says Matladi Mosetlhe.
“If it succeeds, another fuse will be lit in the destruction of our democracy and this most beautiful land,” writes C Brown of Lonehill.
“Without whistle-blowers and the press to keep watch for us taxpayers, we shall be like ignorant, helpless individuals without even a voice raised against the immoral, unethical attitudes and lifestyles of our uncaring leaders. We cannot let it happen,” says Rosemary Sundgren of Somerset West. Anonymous writes that the bill will protect corrupt officials.
In his submission, Johan du Plessis simply writes: “No.”
The committee will meet tomorrow to shortlist submissions for oral presentations. - Political Bureau