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Ear to the Ground

South African Parliament Passes Bill Restricting Press Freedoms

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Posted on Nov 23, 2011
Wikimedia Commons / Jmquez (CC-BY-SA)

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has sounded the alarm about the new bill.

In what looks to many civil rights watchdogs like an ominous throwback to the days of apartheid, the South African parliament passed a law Tuesday that significantly curtails the ability of the press to cover stories about politically sensitive subjects, according to the government’s standards. Both Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s camp are in agreement with other critics of the bill who believe it violates the country’s evolving constitution.  —KA

The New York Times:

The legislation, which still must undergo further steps to become law, would make it a crime, punishable by lengthy prison terms, to disseminate anything that any state agency regards as classified. Critics have called the legislation a throwback to the apartheid regime’s harsh repression and say it is meant to protect corrupt officials from press scrutiny.

Anger over the legislation was embodied by the presentation of an article published last week in The Mail & Guardian, a major weekly newspaper here, about Mac Maharaj, the spokesman for President Jacob Zuma. Most of the text had been blacked out. This outcome, the paper’s editor said, was what loomed for South Africa’s press if the legislation became law.

The Protection of Information Bill, as the legislation is called, must still clear a national council of provinces before it takes effect. Critics have said they will challenge it in South Africa’s constitutional court.

“The bill in its current form does take us back to pre-1994,” said Elston Sippie, executive director of the country’s Freedom of Expression Institute, referring to the year South Africa became a democracy. “I do think it is a setback in that we fought hard and long to get our bill of rights accepted amongst all South Africans. And it is that bill of rights that is now under threat.”

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By SarcastiCanuck, November 24, 2011 at 7:34 am Link to this comment
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And the thieves cloak themselves in secrecy.

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By Marietjie Luyt, November 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a dark day in South Africa’s history. It is generally thought that the secrecy legislation was introduced because the present batch of political leaders, under President Jacob Zuma, are fed up with South African newspapers regularly revealing many instances of gross corruption and mismanagement of state funds. We have seen the rise of many ‘tenderpreneurs’ in the ruling party - people who use their political connections to get lucrative state tenders and mining concessions for themselves or their families, irrespective of whether they are actually able or willing to do the work.  Julius Malema (29), leader of the ANC Youth League, who led a march of desperately poor people from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to Pretoria, is himself a millionaire many times over, apparently from bribes and kickbacks regarding tenders granted in the Limpopo province, where he comes from. So one should not trust his bona fides.  Ordinary people are quite desperate at the latest turn of events. The newspaper editors are said to be’shattered’. This is not what Nelson Mandela fought for.

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By Blueokie, November 23, 2011 at 1:37 pm Link to this comment

And lest anyone forget, IMF, WTO = Wall Street

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By Robespierre115, November 23, 2011 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

In “The Shock Doctrine” Naomi Klein has a great chapter on how the romance of the South African revolution really ends at the moment Mandela became president, the IMF basically set the policy standards and the place became another neoliberal, free market wasteland.

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By entropy2, November 23, 2011 at 12:26 pm Link to this comment

Left, right, center…irrelevant. It’s about concentrated, coercive power.

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By gerard, November 23, 2011 at 12:20 pm Link to this comment

Use it or lose it!

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