Secrecy Bill and Tyranny

The Helen Suzman Foundation wishes to make public its outrage at the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill. This marks a low point in South Africa’s transition to democracy. It represents a significant step backwards in the long walk to freedom to which so many South Africans have devoted their lives.

The South African Constitution enshrines and protects the free flow of information between citizens, and from our government to our citizens. This access to information is essential for accountable, transparent and responsive government. It is an essential component of the liberal constitutional democracy which South Africa aspires to be.

The Protection of State Information Bill represents a real threat to that aspiration. It will deprive South Africans of information which we are constitutionally entitled to. It has the capacity to impose further constraints upon all South Africans who continue to struggle under the heavy hand of an inefficient, overly burdensome and, often, corrupt bureaucracy. This can in effect deny our right to access the information we need to realise our socio-economic rights.

The Bill will cover an already opaque area of government with an even darker shroud. The additional powers granted to the Ministry of State Security by the Bill allow the Ministry, arbitrarily, to interfere with the functioning of other organs of state. The Ministry is thus able to exert undue influence over our government – while at the same time obscuring this influence from public scrutiny. This will amount to tyranny.
This Bill cannot credibly be described as in South Africa’s best interests. Instead, it is a case of political expediency triumphing over Constitutional rights. It marks the beginning of policy being driven by a secretive and self-serving security cluster.

22 November 2011