The 'Secrecy Bill' currently before the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) was of "great concern" to Elder and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, as it stifled accountability and transparency in government, preventing citizens from remaining "stewards of democracy".
Robinson, who also served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, was the keynote speaker at the Tenth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the Cape Town City Hall yesterday, where Mandela gave his first public speech after being freed on February 11, 1990.
In her speech, titled 'Freedom, Truth, Democracy: Citizenship and Common Purpose', Robinson said from her experience as a human rights lawyer, she was certain that enacting a law that "cloaks the workings of Sate actors, that interferes with press freedom to investigate corruption, that stifles efforts by whistleblowers to expose corruption, you are sure to increase those levels of corruption tomorrow".
Before about 800 people, including top state officials such as Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and luminaries such as Graca Machel, Jakes Gerwel and Dr Mamphele Ramphele, Robinson said the public interest "demands that basic truth - of having both transparency and accountability in government."
The lecture held significant symbolic value as it was also presented on the 100th anniversary of the ANC and the 50thanniversary, to the day, of the capture of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid regime.
Robinson applauded the ANC for its "remarkable" achievements in the 100 years of its existence, but said "sadly" its moral authority had been eroded in recent years as it was "tainted by allegations of corruption; a temporary betrayal of its history".
She said while South Africa had achieved much in the 18 years of its democracy, uncomfortable questions remained.
"Why is South Africa's education system underperforming? Why are the rates of illiteracy so high? What has caused the culture of non-attendance and resistance to learning? How has such disparity in the allocation of resources been allowed to occur? How can the inequities in the system be resolved so that every South African child has equal access to quality education? How can the teachers' union be motivated to drive efforts towards positive change?"
However, she said South Africa's capacity to bring about "remarkable results" should not be underestimated, particularly due to the ability and leadership of its women.
Noting that August is Women's Month, Robinson said while women were doing well in representative positions of government, the fact that twice as many women as men were infected with HIV and that 6 619 sexual offences cases were reported in 2010-2011 was evidence of a "darker picture".
More energy needed to be focused on the implementation of policies that would effectively change the lives of many women, she said, as "sustainable development can only be achieved when there is zero tolerance of gender based violence and a full commitment to gender equality".