ANC Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga. Photo: Matthew Jordaan

The ANC Chief Whip's support for the Protection of State Information Bill advert shows a misunderstanding of the role of Parliament and the separation of powers, the DA said on Wednesday.

“Mathole Motshekga's support for the department of state security propaganda campaign gave an insight into the real purpose of the advert in the first place,” Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said.

“(Their aim) is to conjure up support for a bill which the ANC has failed to garner support for, and which has been flatly rejected by the South African people.”

Mazibuko reiterated it was a serious violation of the separation of powers for the executive to use state resources to push for support for a bill which was still being considered by Parliament.

“In effect, the department of state security is using public money in an attempt to convince South Africans of what the ANC has failed to do over the last year.”

Mazibuko was responding to comments by Motshekga, who earlier on Wednesday said the DA's complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) earlier this week about the advert was “absurd and ridiculous”.

“It is silly for the DA to regard this exercise as a violation of the principle of separation of powers. The department is merely educating South Africans on the facts around the bill, not influencing or meddling in the parliamentary process,” Motshekga said.

While public consultation had taken place, albeit with limited resources, the state security department's intervention “in this public educational process should be welcomed”.

“One of the problems that “have been lamented about from time to time by the majority of stakeholders involved in the bill's process has been the lack of or limited knowledge pertaining to the objectives and intentions of this draft legislation among the public”, he said in a statement.

“As the sponsor of the bill, the department had a right to educate the public on its objectives and intentions through a variety of media platforms.”

Mazibuko said the campaign “seeks to persuade the public that the purpose of the bill is to protect personal information, such as birth certificates and drivers' licences.”

She said the adverts - in print and on radio and TV - focused on “a narrow and largely irrelevant” aspect of the bill.

“(This)... is disingenuous, as no mention is made of the bill's range of controversial implications.”

There was no reference to its serious implications for press freedom, or its potential repercussions for corruption whistle-blowers. Mazibuko said the department's decision to “engage in this propaganda campaign” on a piece of legislation still being deliberated on, and that had yet to be signed into law, showed a clear disregard for the separation of powers.

“The executive has no right to embark on an 'education campaign'. The Chief Whip of the majority party should know this,” she said.

The advertisements appeared to breach three key provisions of the ASA's advertising code dealing with honesty, fear and truthful representation.

Mazibuko intended writing to National Assembly Speaker, Max Sisulu, and National Council of Provinces chairman, Mninwa Mahlangu, to raise concerns about the government launching a media offensive on a matter that was currently before Parliament.

Motshekga said the ANC was confident the ASA would see the DA's complaint for what it was, “a silly and opportunistic political game, and dismiss it”. - Sapa