September 17, 2011

Hundreds lash out at 'Secrecy Bill' during Parliament march

South African politicians have joined hundreds of people who marched outside Parliament to protest against the controversial Secrecy Bill which will be tabled in Parliament next week. The ruling African National Congress used its majority to push through the Protection of Information Bill which proposes penalties for disclosure and possession of material classified secret. Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and Cape Town premier Helen Zille were among activists opposed to the bill. The Bill is aimed at shielding South Africa's "silly leaders" from embarrassment, not protecting the country's real official secrets, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said. Kasrils said the legislation was wrong.┬┤Standing on the flatbed of a truck parked outside Parliament's main gates, Kasrils, who wore a pink shirt and a straw hat for the occasion, said it was essential people raised their voice against the Bill. "I have been asked by journalists why I, as a former minister, and a member of the [ANC] and the South African Communist Party [SACP], am at this march. "The answer ... is very simple. When your mother or father, brother or sister, your family, is doing the wrong thing ... you raise your voice and say, 'That is wrong, it must not be done!'".

On media freedom, he suggested government was pushing through the Bill to spare itself embarrassment. "This all-embracing Secrecy Bill ... we smell and suspect is not about the real secrets that must be defended but it's to prevent those silly leaders who have egg on their face, who have been exposed by the media for doing foolish and embarrassing things." Among such things, he said, were "misusing and abusing" tenders and contracts as well as taxpayers' money.

The march was organised by Right2Know (R2K), a grouping of 400 civil society organisations that began fighting the controversial bill a year ago. About 2 000 people took part, including provincial premier Helen Zille, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better know as Zapiro, and Treatment Action Campaign head Zackie Achmat.

The final draft of the Bill is set to go before the National Assembly on Tuesday. It will then have to go to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence, before being signed into law by President Jacob Zuma. Those opposed to the measure say it seriously erodes the public's right to know and poses a threat to the freedom of the country's press. (Sapa)

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