South Africa: Media, Civil Society Vow to Continue Fighting Against 'Secrecy Bill'

Protesters gathered outside of parliament in Cape Town on November 22, 2011, which was declared Black Tuesday, to protest against the Protection of State Information Bill.

22 November 2011

Cape Town — Protesters at the South African Parliament in Cape Town vowed to continue fighting against the so-called Secrecy Bill, saying it is a threat to democracy and service delivery.

Members of the public and supporters from organisations like Right2Know and media houses including Media24 and Independent Newspapers, gathered outside Parliament dressed in black to show their support for "Black Tuesday", based on what became known as "Black Wednesday" on October 19, 1977, when the apartheid government banned The World, the Sunday World and a Christian publication Pro Veritas, as well almost 20 people and organisations associated with the black consciousness movement.

More than a thousand protesters - answering a nationwide call to protest on the day the National Assembly would vote on passing the controversial Protection of State Information Bill - chanted liberation songs and waved placards that said: "Say No To Secrecy Bill". "You lied to us, you never took it back to the people as you promised shame on you", "The public is interested" and "Yes to media freedom".

The most fascinating sign, which thrilled many people, was a placard with three monkeys that said: "We Are Tax Paying Citizens - Not Your Dumb Pets". The activist holding the poster, Cliff Smith, said he is not against the bill but "wants the public interest clause included.

"This placard represents the three Asian monkeys with their faces covered, saying "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". What they want from us is to just be quiet while our rights are being violated - that's what the government wants...they want us to be like these monkeys," Smith said.

"We want to stand against this bill, I hope our voices will be heard. We hope our protest will make the difference of what will happen and if changes fail, we want to know why," Rudi Novem, another protester, said.

Nic Dawes, editor for Mail and Guardian and media freedom chairperson of the South African Editors' Forum, rallied the protesters to continue defiantly fighting against the bill and expressed hope that the ANC National Council of Provinces still has a chance to fix the situation. "It's not too late. But if they do not fix it, we will continue fighting for our freedom. We will take them to the Constitutional Court," Dawes said.

Sonke Gender Network was among the civil society organisations there opposing the Protection of State Information Bill. Patrick Godana, national manager of the organisation which deals with gender issues and human rights, said: "We are against the Secrecy Bill because it will undermine our democracy which we fought hard to win. Knowledge is power - they want to control information so that they will easily control us. The bill is against even ANC policies and is unconstitutional."

The Secrecy Bill was put forward in South Africa's Parliament in 2010 and was met with much criticism from the public, media organisations and civil society - saying it will undermine democracy and human rights, while the government insists that "arguing that life under the Protection of State Information Bill will be characterised by censorship and information blackouts is sensationalising of the highest order".

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