Tag Archives: South Africa

Once the ANC were warriors

Debate on the Protection of Information Bill, which has been dubbed the Secrecy Bill for obvious reasons, has been back in the news this week. The ANC has begun to force the Bill through Parliament, disregarding the legitimate concerns of non-ANC Parliamentarians and civil society, as well as, well, the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. The manner in which the ANC is doing this is unconstitutional, against established legislation drafting practices and has been downright hostile. In its current form, this Bill will never pass constitutional scrutiny and, as things currently stand, unless President Zuma intervenes and refuses to sign this Bill into law, South Africa will be facing a very nasty fight in our Constitutional Court, which the ANC will never win, but during which time the Bill may be operational.

I’ll give a bit of background for those of you who are not familiar with the provisions of the Secrecy Bill or it’s possible implications. Essentially, the Bill seeks to classify certain information into various categories: valuable, confidential, secret, top secret and so on. Any head of “an organ of state” may classify information, or may delegate the power to classify information to other persons. It is estimated that over 1000 entities could fall under the description of “an organ of state”, so that’s over 1000 people and, in light of the delegation powers, it could be many more thousands of people who can classify information pretty much as they wish.

Information will be classified depending on its “national interest” importance. The Bill has an open-ended definition of “national interest”, which includes, but is not limited to “all matters relating to the advancement of the public good”. It’s an extremely broad definition. “National interest” includes things like “security from all forms of crime” and “details of criminal investigations and police and law enforcement methods”, i.e. basically everything. So, for example, police enforcement methods, which increasingly involve excessive police brutality, would fall within this broad definition of “national interest”.

Apart from the extremely broad definition of information that can be classified, there are many other things that greatly concern me about the Bill. For example, people can fall foul not only for possessing classified information, but also if they should reasonably have known that they possessed such classified information. So, if you tend to not really pay attention to what’s happening around you or in current affairs in the country, best you snap out of it and start paying attention or you could inadvertently end up in deep shit. If you retain this information (which, remember, you may not even know that you have), you’re in even more shit. And, should you publish such information, then God help you. Here, ladies and gentlemen, ends all freedom of media in South Africa.

The Bill defines “espionage offences” and “hostile activity offences”, both of which carry jail terms of up to 25 years. 25 years! And no, I’m not kidding. Imprisonment of between 15 and 25 years will be given to those that “unlawfully communicate, deliver or make available State information classified top secret which an offender knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspected would directly or indirectly prejudice the state“. There it is again, you don’t even need to be aware of what you’re doing and you can end up in the slammer for 25 years. WTF??!

And who gets to decide what “prejudice to the state” is anyway? Those potential thousands of people in countless organs of state in South Africa? From past experience, we’ve seen that the ANC only likes what it calls “patriotic journalism”, which is when journalists write nice, polite and complimentary things about the government and South Africa as a whole. I guess anything that is even slightly less than complimentary will be regarded as prejudicing the state and those who write it will end up in jail. For a long time. This all sounds vaguely familiar… if only I could place it… hmmm… oh, yes… communist Russia under Joseph Stalin. Do you think the ANC will stop there or will they make the imprisoned journalists work in salt mines too?

And before you complain that maybe this is necessary because South African journalists sometimes make mistakes and they should be punished for it,  just remember that that is the nature of investigative journalism. Mistakes happen. The mistakes they make, however, are greatly outweighed by the good that they do. With this Bill, the ANC is not trying to punish journalists for making mistakes, they are trying to punish journalists for telling the truth.

Before last week’s elections, the ANC made certain concessions where they agreed to replace “national interest” with the more restricted “national security”. They also agreed to bring the Secrecy Bill in line with the existing Promotion of Access to Information Act (which protects your right to know and which is in total contradiction to the Secrecy Bill). Mere days after the elections, they’ve reneged on these concessions. Maybe they’re sulking because they lost 2% of their support. Who knows.

Oh, and before I forget, the ANC will not allow the defence of public interest to be included in the Bill because, heaven forbid, anyone else might know what’s best for this country or may have a legitimate reason for exposing what he or she did. The ANC’s reason for not allowing the public interest defence is that they couldn’t find any international good practice that allowed for it. Where were they looking? The Arab world? Zimbabwe? Also, I hate to break it to you, but the lack of the public interest defence internationally is most probably because there is no international good practice that allows for states to violate their citizens’ right to know by way of Secrecy Bills and similar crap.

In short, a journalist who reports on police brutality, which I’m sure would be regarded as “prejudice to the state” will go to jail for upwards of 15 years. So would a journalist who reports on fraud in government tenders. And so will a journalist who reports on Sheryl Cwele being a drug trafficker because, as we all know, her husband is the head of an organ of state and could so very easily classify anything to do with her criminal activities as not being in the national interest.

And before you think that it’s just the rights of journalists that will be infringed, you should pause for a second and contemplate how this Bill will violate your right to know… because under this law, you will know nothing. About anything. Now, I for one don’t know who gave the ANC the right to decide what I’m allowed to know and what I’m not allowed to know about my life and the things that affect it, and I’m really angry about what’s going on.

As far as the ANC is concerned, I’ve never been very critical of them, in fact I’ve supported much of what they’ve done. However, what the ANC is doing with the Secrecy Bill is frightening and it makes my blood run cold. It is a relief that not all ANC leaders support the Bill, leaders like Pallo Jordan have come out against it, and I hope that there are many more similarly minded people. I hope, too, that ANC leaders will remember how hard they fought, and how much they sacrificed, to secure our right to know. I hope that they will stand against what is being done in their name. I hope that they will remember that once the ANC were warriors.

One settler, one prozac

Someone spray-painted this picture on a sign for an accounting firm near my office. I’m not sure how the accounting firm feels about it.

It’s obviously a play on the Azanian People’s Liberation Army slogan of “One settler, one bullet”, used during the 1980s struggle against Apartheid in South Africa or, as modified by Kobus in District 9, “One prawn, one bullet”. Come to think of it, kids probably think Kobus coined it. Anyway, before all the whites get uncomfortable, I just need to clarify that “settler” was never used to refer to all whites, just those who thought oppression was awesome.

I’m struck by the irony of the sign every time I drive past it and I don’t know whether to find it funny or not. I guess that’s the whole point. I’ve heard a lot of white people freaking out about South Africa lately, probably because of the elections and stuff. Sometimes their fears are totally WTF-like to me, but generally they are just the same fears as those held by South Africans of all races, usually having something to do with Julius Malema or the City of Johannesburg accidentally sending people electricity bills for R2.5 million (as though electricity metres even count that high). What I’m trying to say is that they are, by and large, understandable concerns, but nothing that a little prozac wouldn’t cure.

And they’re clearly concerns that are making people vote for the DA, as initial election results show that the DA has gained significantly in these elections, now holding approximately 1 in every 4 votes. That’s up from 1 in every 100 votes not that long ago. Clearly the DA is no longer just a white party because there are not enough whites (or coloured people for that matter) in this country to give them that much support. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the DA’s new support is as a result of Juju being such a pain in the arse over the last few years, as well as COPE’s collapse of epic and embarrassing proportions. The DA should probably thank them all for that.

I’m all for a strong opposition, they keep the ANC on their toes, and democracy, service delivery and our everyday lives in general are better for it. It’s what is going to ensure that South Africa doesn’t go down the same disastrous route as many other African countries.

All of this doesn’t really matter considering that Judgement Day is scheduled for tomorrow. This is when people are supposed to get raptured and stuff. According to some very shady maths done by Harold Camping, who sounds like a full-on loony, tomorrow is 7000 years since Noah’s flood started. He’s cried this wolf several times before, making a big fuss of 21 May 1994 but, after that passed with no rapturing, he realised he’d “miscalculated” … again.

So we’ll see how tomorrow goes. Those of us who aren’t raptured may face “the torment of a scorpion” for the next 5 months until 21 October 2011, when the End of the World will go down. It doesn’t sound like much fun. Tell your friends and family you love and value them today… not because of the impending doom, but because you should do that every day. Peace out and all the best with Judgement Day.

Love your South Africa

It’s less than 2 days before polls open for the 2011 Local Government Elections… and I’m yet to hear of anyone being tortured or killed. The opposition has rallies and no rubber bullets or tear gas are used to disburse the gathered supporters. People aren’t forced to keep their vote a secret on fear of death, instead they openly discuss who they are going to vote for and why. After many years in South Africa, I still find this weird.

Rather, kids are attending school as per normal and people are peacefully at work, acting as though they’re not about to exercise their most powerful right as South African citizens. In fact, in South Africa, potential voters are frequently reminded that voting is both a right and an obligation. I find the fact that people have to be persuaded to vote very strange… why would you not vote when you have the opportunity to do so in free and fair elections? I guess the problem is that many South Africans don’t realise how lucky they are. It’s also insulting to those of us who have never seen free and fair elections in our countries.

All in all, it’s been a rather boring election run-up. Don’t get me wrong, this is obviously a good thing, but it’s still quite boring. The only entertainment we’ve had are reminders that those who vote for the ANC will go to heaven and bad election posters. I mean, if your face is going to be on every lamp post in the vicinity, why didn’t you at least choose a good picture of yourself? I tell you, some of them are just naaasty. It’s self-sabotage, pure and simple. They clearly want people to not vote for them.

Oh wait, and then there’s also COPE’s participation in the elections, which I just find hilarious. Their posters have “Reliable. Accountable. Incorruptible” pasted across them, together with Lekota’s beaming face. Are they for real? I can’t help wondering whether maybe they’re maybe talking about another COPE, a COPE whose leaders didn’t bicker and squabble over power until they’d all lost every ounce of credibility, a COPE that didn’t have to go to the High Court to tell them who was actually the president of their own party… you know, basically a COPE that was serious about life.

Of course, there has also been all the fighting about toilets, so much so that the elections are being commonly referred to as “the toilet elections”. First, the DA was in crap for failing to enclose toilets they had built in Makhaza informal settlement in the Western Cape. The ANC then called the DA a racist political party, blah, blah, blah, which made things more awkward. The DA has now been slapped with a court order ordering them to enclose the toilets. Damn right, I thought.

Then came the revelation that the ANC has failed to enclose toilets they built in Moqhaka Local Municipality in the Free State. That left deep embarrassment on the ANC’s collective face. The ANC had entered into the same agreement with local residents as the DA had in Cape Town – there was an understanding that if they provided the sanitation, the residents would provide the enclosures. Apparently such agreements are illegal and contrary to the Constitution, but I honestly think both the DA and the ANC were just trying to do their best on limited budgets and they placed too much trust in the residents delivering on their side of the deal. It back-fired on both of them.

I must just say, as an aside, that I’ve been really impressed with the ANC’s reaction to the discovery of unenclosed ANC toilets. They didn’t fight it or try to wrangle their way out of it, they took responsibility and said, “Whatever the circumstance, it’s unacceptable… We cannot allow our people to be disrespected like that. It’s even worse if that’s being done by an ANC municipality”. Those are pretty deep sentiments. Since the discovery of the unenclosed toilets, they’ve enclosed hundreds and have said that they will enclose hundreds more in the coming weeks. Well done.

The squabbling about toilets has shown that the political parties concerned realise exactly what these elections are about: basic service delivery. Which is what local government elections should be about. As they say, you get the leaders you deserve, and if you don’t vote, I guess you get the leaders that other people deserve… and you definitely lose your right to complain about lack of service delivery. So, please, go out and make your mark on Wednesday. Vote for who you think is going to provide the best basic service delivery. Love your South Africa.