The Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill “responds to international developments relating to the protection of critical infrastructure”, but a Durban community group believes it will spell trouble for proponents of transparency.
Durban -  Lawmakers want to replace the apartheid-era National Key Points Act with a new “draconian” bill that is set to jeopardise South Africans’ civil liberties.

The South Durban Community Environmental Alliance's Desmond D’sa said yesterday that the new Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill spelt trouble.

The new bill was published in the Government Gazette in September. Under "background and purpose", it says it “responds to international developments relating to the protection of critical infrastructure”.

“The modern definition of critical infrastructure is wider than ‘safeguarding’, which was an objective of the (National Key Points) Act. It is increasingly accepted that the protection of critical infrastructure has become a much broader concept, with a distinctly new focus in that the concept increasingly refers to preventative security measures as well,” it says. It goes on that the National Key Points Act has become “outdated” since it was published in 1980 and is “not aligned with the constitutional imperatives”.

It also says that the Promotion of Access to Information Act was recently used to request information relating to declared national key points.

“The high court – in the matter of the Right2Know Campaign – alluded to certain aspects of the act that require review, relating to provisions that do not prohibit the disclosure of national key points, the public interest that national key points should be disclosed and the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, movement and access to information,” it says.

The bill seeks to establish a “Critical Infrastructure Council” and would give the Minister of Police the power to declare any structure "critical infrastructure".

It would criminalise tampering, damaging or destroying critical infrastructure and provide for a person found guilty of this to be fined or sentenced to up to 30 years behind bars. And anyone who took or recorded photographs or video footage of a critical infrastructure or critical infrastructure complex in order to distribute it “for an unlawful purpose” could get a fine or 20 years in prison.

“It means if a structure is deemed a national key point, you cannot write about or take any photographs of it,” D’Sa said. He said the bill was simply an “amped-up” version of the National Key Points Act and believed the government was looking to reinstate “draconian” laws because of political instability in the country.

“There's a lot that this can hide,” he said.

The deadline for the public to comment on the bill was last month, but the secretary of the portfolio committee on police, Babalwa Mbengo, said this week that public hearings had been scheduled for January.