THE FIGHT continues. That was the vow made by opponents of the Protection of State Information Bill yesterday after ANC MPs used their majority in the National Assembly to approve it, despite a concerted fight by opposition MPs who made up for their lack of numbers by exploiting the rule book in a bid to defeat the bill.
The tally was 229 votes in favour, while opposition MPs mustered only 107 votes against it because some MPs were absent, while some parties have vacant seats.
There were two abstentions – one of them by ANC MP Gloria Borman and the other by the United Democratic Movement’s Stanley Ntapane.
MPs took their seats as hundreds of protesters gathered at the gates of Parliament to register their protest, and pickets took place across the country.
Members of the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) – editors of the country’s major print and broadcast media – sat in the public gallery, dressed in black to mark what the National Press Club had dubbed Black Tuesday.
When the result of the vote was announced, they rose as one and left. Journalists cleared the Press Gallery at the same time, as ANC MPs applauded and shouted “Bye bye”.
Deft political footwork by the DA, in concert with the IFP, Cope, the ACDP and Freedom Front Plus, saw the ANC caught on the back foot by an initial bid to have the proceedings postponed, but the effect was only to delay the inevitable and see ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga told by Speaker Max Sisulu that he wasn’t allowed to make speeches when he stood to object.
Parties were allowed three minutes each to make declarations setting out their opposition to the bill.
Boos and howls from ANC MPs met DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko when she said it was “a dark day” for the country’s young democracy.
“If passed, this bill will unstitch the very fabric of our constitution. It will criminalise the freedoms that so many of our people fought for.
“What will you, the members on that side of the house, tell your grandchildren? I know you will tell them that you fought for freedom. But will you also tell them you helped to destroy it? Because they will pay the price for your actions today.
“Let this weigh heavy on your conscience as you cast your vote,” Mazibuko said.
Cope leader and former ANC national chairman and defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota, said: “I shudder to think that the men and women who say money is being stolen will be locked up in the name of the ANC.
“I am ashamed… (we) will not vote for this legislation,” he said.
The ANC was creating “exactly the same situation” those who fought apartheid had confronted, when patriots were locked up and criminalised for saying what was wrong with the apartheid state, Lekota added.
The PAC’s Letlapa Mphahlele said: “You don’t have to be a foreign spy to oppose this legislation.” He warned it would limit freedoms and turn the country into a “banana republic”.
Calling on President Jacob Zuma not to sign the bill, the IFP’s Mario Ambrosini said Parliament was acting against the will of the people, who had said “in a clear voice” they did not want it. “What emerges out of this… is the arrogance of power.”
But Ambrosini missed the vote. Asked why his name was absent from the voting minutes, which lists the name of every MP, he told The Star he was “probably in the toilet”. After his ablutions, he had gone to do an interview with eNews. His vote would not have made much difference, he added.
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said the true motivation for the bill was not so much state security as the concerns of people high up in the ANC for what the media was reporting.
ANC MP Luwellyn Landers said most critics of the bill had not read it and wanted former apartheid ruler PW Botha’s 1982 act – which the bill is meant to replace – to remain on the statute books. Retorted IFP chief whip Koos van der Merwe: “The honourable member attacks PW Botha, but he was a deputy minister in his cabinet.”
The bill has some way still to go before it becomes law: it will now go to the National Council of Provinces, which has the power to hold a fresh round of public hearings, take submissions and make amendments – although it can also pass the bill as it stands.
Speaking on the steps of the National Assembly after the vote, Sanef chairman Mondli Makhanya said editors would work with unions and civil society to continue the fight against the bitterly contested bill.
DA leader Helen Zille told The Star: “This is not the end of the road. We will take the bill to the Constitutional Court. More than a third of MPs oppose the bill, which enables us to do so (approach the Constitutional Court) under section 80 of the constitution.”
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