'This country is screwed up'
Joburg resident Roy Blumenthal gagged himself with part of a black plastic refuse bag on Tuesday in protest against the Protection of State Information Bill.
This was symbolic of what the government intended to do, he said at a picket outside the ANC's headquarters at Luthuli House, in Joburg.
“This country is screwed up completely and it will take a lot to fix it. The bill will just benefit corrupt politicians,” he said.
Glenda Daniels, a member of the Right2Know Campaign which organised the protest, said the bill had huge constitutional implications and should not be passed in its current form.
The media had already had a taste of what was to come should the bill be passed, she said.
She was referring to the recent charges brought against the Mail&Guardian and two journalists by presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj over a story.
“We will not stop fighting and no, we haven't lost hope.”
The National Assembly is schedule to vote on the bill on Tuesday afternoon.
Daniels said the next option would be to bring the matter to the Constitutional Court.
“It is totally anti-constitutional.... There are those within the ANC that were against. They share the same view with us that the exclusion on public interest defence stops the free flow of information and will hinder democracy.”
Her colleague Jayshree Pather criticised the ANC for taking chances with people's rights and said the bill affected ordinary people and not just the media .
“Citizens need information to access other basic rights like housing,” she said
If the National Assembly votes in favour of the bill, it will go to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) where opposition MPs hope they can convince the ANC to narrow down clauses criminalising possession and disclosure of classified information.
All opposition parties have made it clear that they will not support the draft law on the basis that it threatens media freedom and gives the state excessive power to keep information secret.
After the NCOP process, it will be referred back to the National Assembly before President Jacob Zuma is asked to sign it into law.
There were protests against the bill in Joburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town on Tuesday.
Some of the protesters outside Luthuli House stood on opposite sides of the road carrying placards which read: “Sine lungelo lokwazi” which translates as “We have the right to know”.
Other placards read: “We won't be silent”, “Let the truth be told” and “Don't think you are going to conceal fault by concealing evidence”.
Pamphlets were handed to motorists and pedestrians urging them to demand the right to know and force the government to scrap the secrecy bill.
The National Press Club 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.
An hour into the protest, Johannesburg metro police began removing people from outside Luthuli House, saying they were not allowed to be there.
Journalists from several media houses including the Mail&Guardian, The Star and the SABC, started dispersing around 9.30am. – Sapa