Mail & Guardian
South Africa is about to take a giant step back to the bad old days, said Margie Orford. Under the apartheid government, journalists and novelists were often jailed for what they said or wrote, particularly anything “they revealed about the injustices perpetrated by the state on its people.” Last week, the lower house of Parliament passed a bill on state secrets that once again criminalizes such reporting.
Embarrassed by a raft of abuse-of-power cases, the ruling but “increasingly remote” African National Congress party, which “has much to hide,” drafted the bill so that anyone who exposes ANC corruption could face 25 years in prison. If this bill is passed by the upper house and becomes law, as is likely, it will mean a “return to the brutal forms of censorship, state control, and bullying” that we shed not two decades ago.
Fortunately, South Africans are not sitting passively. Not only journalists, but trade unionists, opposition legislators, and thousands of ordinary citizens have demonstrated against the secrecy bill, and many constitutional scholars believe it may be struck down by the constitutional court. Let’s hope so. Because the secrecy bill is “a jackboot directed at the face” of human rights in our young democracy.