The Right2Know campaign has been voted Johannesburg Press Club 2012 newsmaker of the year.
“It's a victory for people's power,” Right2Know (R2K) Gauteng spokeswoman Jayshree Pather said on Thursday, accepting the award at Wits Business School, in Johannesburg.
“What lies ahead is, I think, many other struggles and as Right2Know we're committed to... eternal vigilance,” she said.
Johannesburg Press Club chairman Mixael de Kock said the R2K coalition, comprising more than 400 organisations with 30,000 members, had “relentlessly pursued the public's right to understand the full scope of the Protection of State Information Bill... and how it would impact the media and every citizen of this country”.
It had shown “extraordinary courage, commitment and consistency” in ensuring the issues it tackled received news coverage.
“Access to information, as well as freedom of expression and association, are hard-won rights which are enshrined in the South African constitution.
“These values were continuously reiterated, restated and reported by the coalition,” he said.
Pather said every single committee meeting in Parliament had been full to capacity with R2K people monitoring “every single step of the way what happened with the Secrecy Bill”.
The amended Protection of State Information Bill, known as the Secrecy Bill, was adopted by 34 votes to 16 by the National Council of Provinces at the end of November and will go back to the National Assembly in the new year, where it is likely to be passed with ease by the ANC majority
At the time, R2K and opposition parties vowed that, if this happened, they would ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the legislation,
Pather said when R2K started two years ago, it was considered at best alarmist and at worst, a traitor.
“Right2Know has been accused of being counter-revolutionaries, agents of western imperialism..., but the reality is all that we've achieved in the two years has been achieved, really through the tireless and selfless energy, passion and commitment of hundreds and hundreds of people,” she said.
“I think what we've seen unfold... has proven that we've been right to say there's a real threat to our democracy, that there's an increasing veil of secrecy descending upon all aspects of our lives....
“I mean its unbelievable, and much of it we don't even know, but what we've seen again is the increased attack on civil society.”
She said mainstream civil society organisations were now being accused of many of the things only Right2Know had been accused of in the past.
“... Organisations that are working to support the state in a range of different areas are now being attacked because we're independent, because we're critical.”
The award was for a strengthened civil society, said Pather.
“It's to acknowledge the work of all of these organisations, who work against great odds, under very difficult circumstances and so it's a very important... thing for all of civil society.”
Other nominees for the award were Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and her team, and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
A Special Mention Award was made to Madonsela, who received the newsmaker award in 2011, for being the second person ever to be nominated twice in consecutive years. The other double nominee was former president Nelson Mandela. - Sapa