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Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi has warned that the Protection of State Information Bill could have the effect of turning the country into a security state. And he said the labour federation’s lawyers would be first in line at the Constitutional Court if the draft law was passed in its current form.
A third day of public hearings at parliament on Thursday saw heavy hitters such as Vavi and advocate George Bizos give voice to their concerns over the present version of the bill.
Local ANC, SACP and SA National Civic Organisation activists – the “ANC-led alliance in the Cape metro” – meanwhile announced they would march on parliament on Friday in support of the bill.
It appeared to be directed at countering the Right2Know campaign’s opposition to the bill. A statement referred to “the consistent campaign of disinformation and hysteria propagated” by Right2Know against the bill and said it was “dominated by foreign-sponsored NGOs and Western-owned media agencies”.
This echoed claims – never substantiated – by State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele that those opposed to the bill were in the pay of foreign powers who were using them as their proxies to oppose the bill.
The government this week launched a multimillion-rand advertising campaign on SABC radio and TV aimed at persuading people that the bill was intended to protect their personal information, such as IDs and driving licences.
The so-called secrecy bill is just one draft law being processed by parliament concerning the security of the state and individual liberties. Another bill, the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, and a bill relating to personal information were also on this week’s agenda, despite most MPs being absent on constituency leave during recess.
“If this bill is passed in its present form there will be a very long queue of advocates (waiting) to take the president and the minister (of state security) to court. And it will be a never-ending queue,” said Bizos, best known for defending Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial in 1963.
Speaking on behalf of the Legal Resources Centre, Bizos said the bill would sideline the courts in deciding what “good or bad” classification of state information meant.