Black Tuesday campaigners protest against the Protection of State Information Bill outside Luthuli House in Joburg's Sauer Street. Photo: Barry McCallum

A small group of picketers gathered outside the ruling African National Congress (ANC) offices in Pretoria on Tuesday, in protest over the Protection of State Information Bill (POIB).

The bill, which has been severely criticised, is set to be voted upon by members of the National Assembly later on Tuesday.

Picketers mostly wearing black with cellotape across their mouths carried placards which read “Don't Back Aparthate (sic); “Liar Liar Pants on Fire”; “No Information Means No Accountability”; and “THINK, its not illegal yet”.

Protester Anna Brown said: “In the old days there was a communist under every bed. Now it seems like there is a spy under every bed.”

The Pretoria librarian said she believed the proposed law would be used to cover up corruption.

“So many instances of wrongdoing have come to light. This will stop it. We are not at war. There is no reason for this secrecy,” she said.

Passing motorists and pedestrians were handed pamphlets by campaigners from anti-bill lobby group Right2Know.

In Johannesburg a group of people also dressed in black, protested outside the ANC's headquarters in Sauer Street.

The crowd lined the streets outside Luthuli House, quietly holding placards, which read “We have the right to know”; “Stop secrecy bill” and “Let the truth be told”.

Some motorists passing by were hooting in support of the protest. Two security guards were present outside and one police van was on the scene.

National Press Club (NPC) chairman, Yusuf Abramjee said the day, dubbed Black Tuesday will mark the start of dark days for freedom of speech, freedom of expression and media freedom.

“We have received thousands of messages of support from across SA and it's time that we get a loud and clear message to government that we will not sit back and watch our constitutional rights being infringed,” he said.

Some political parties, many non governmental organisations, the Right2Know campaign and the SA National Editors Forum are in support of Black Tuesday, he said.

The NPC asked people opposed to the bill to wear black clothes, a black ribbon or a black armband.

It named the campaign Black Tuesday, based on what became known as Black Wednesday - October 19 1977, when the apartheid government banned The World, the Sunday World and a Christian publication Pro Veritas, as well as almost 20 people and organisations associated with the black consciousness movement.

The ANC'S parliamentary caucus has dismissed the Black Tuesday protest as a “distortion of facts”.

“The only result this unfortunate comparison and the planned campaign, in which people are urged to dress in black will achieve is to dilute the real history of the Black Wednesday and insult the victims of apartheid's barbaric laws,” ANC Chief Whip MatholeMotshekga said on Monday. - Sapa