Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Something strange happened in Parliament this week which underpins and reveals the depth of the rot within our Republic, and how much the ANC does not understand the true value of democracy.
Undoubtedly, the Protection of State Information Bill, the so-called “Secrecy Bill”, has been the most controversial piece of legislation in our post-liberation period. It has also been the most followed, analysed and discussed among all building blocks of civil society, leading to its rejection and criticism by the overwhelming majority of South Africans.
The latest chapter in the long saga of the approval of this Bill is a sentence which the Ad Hoc Committee processing the Bill now intends to include in its final Report, to the effect that the Committee was unable to agree to the publication of a minority view of the IFP. This is an extraordinary statement that deserves analysis.
Following the approval of the Secrecy Bill in the National Assembly, the Leader of the Opposition wrote a letter to the President complaining that the Bill was unconstitutional and that the President should not assent to it, but should rather send it back to the National Assembly to correct the defects of constitutionality. In support of her letter, she attached a detailed senior counsel legal opinion by Advocate Anton Katz.
The IFP shared these views and was satisfied by the action of the Leader of the Opposition, which we saw no point in duplicating with our own action.
At the same time, the Hon. Ms Dene Smuts of the DA and the Hon. Mr Steve Swart of the ACDP also wrote to the President, complaining that there were a number of syntactical, grammatical and typographical errors in the Bill which, to their minds, required the President to send it back to the National Assembly so that such errors could be corrected.
Having both documents before him, the President sent the Bill back, mentioning only the grammatical errors in two sections of the Bill.
In the ensuing deliberations of the Ad Hoc Committee, IFP representative Dr Mario GR Oriani-Ambrosini argued that even though the President has a limited power to send back the Bill on specific constitutional grounds, once the Bill is back with the National Assembly, the National Assembly and its Committee have a plenary power to review it in its entirety and are not circumscribed to deal exclusively with the concerns of constitutionality raised by the President.
Our argument is based on Section 79, which calls on the National Assembly to review the Bill once the President sends it back, rather than reviewing only the portions of the Bill identified by the President.
The Committee resolved not to be circumscribed to the two sections identified by the President and chose to correct all the grammatical, syntactical and typographical errors in the Bill, which affected about 30 sections. In so doing, the Committee saw itself not circumscribed to the grounds and sections of the Bill identified by the President and felt that it had the inherent power to amend the Bill beyond them.
At that point, Dr Ambrosini argued fiercely that the Committee had to acquire to its procedures a copy of the opinion of Advocate Katz dealing with the real issues with the Bill, which are issues of constitutionality, rather than merely fixing the grammar. He offered to submit such opinion to the Committee, but was stopped by the Chairperson, the Hon. Mr Cecil Burgess, who indicated that the Committee would not be dealing with the issues of constitutionality or with the Katz opinion, and that the Katz opinion was not, and would not be placed, before the Committee.
Strangely enough, in this effort of his Dr Ambrosini found himself alone, as the DA’s representatives relied on the submission by the Hon. Smuts to the President, rather than on that of the Leader of the Opposition.
When the Committee completed its deliberations, on behalf of the IFP Dr Ambrosini requested that the foregoing circumstances be recorded in the Committee’s Report as a minority view. National Assembly Rule 251(3)(e) makes it mandatory for a committee report to record “any view” requested to be recorded by “a minority”. But, even though Dr Ambrosini repeatedly called the ANC’s attention to this Rule, the ANC majority flatly refused to record in the Report any view but its own, expressly stating that their understanding of democracy is that only the views of the majority matter.
On behalf of the IFP, Dr Ambrosini wrote to the Speaker of the National Assembly pointing out this procedural flaw, which would not enable Members to prepare for the debate in the National Assembly with the benefit of knowing all views expressed in the Committee, so that they may choose how to speak and vote in the Assembly once the Bill serves there.
The Speaker and the Planning Committee agreed with him and the National Assembly reconstituted the Ad Hoc Committee for the sole purpose of rewriting its Report so that the view of the minority, any minority, could be recorded in it.
At its first meeting, the reconstituted Committee dealt with its minutes and the draft report without the benefit of an IFP representative, because somehow no notice was sent of such meeting to either the IFP or, reportedly, to COPE, which in itself makes the holding of a meeting invalid and legally flawed.
At the following meeting, Dr Ambrosini requested two views to be registered; firstly that the IFP believes that the entire Bill should have been reviewed to address its flaws of constitutionality, and secondly that the Committee should have acquired and considered the opinion of Advocate Anton Katz explaining such flaws. This second view is the one that the Ad Hoc Committee refused to report on and record.
In a two hour debate, the ANC stated time and again that it would not report a minority view if it disagreed with it, showing no understanding of what freedom of opinion is all about. In the end, they had the unbelievable candour of stating in their own Report exactly that; that they do not believe in freedom of opinion and that the view of the IFP was not recorded because the rest of the Committee could not agree with it.
Why was the IFP’s view that the opinion of Advocate Katz should have been acquired to the proceedings so explosive that they dared not record it? Why did the DA go into cahoots with the ANC to make sure that the IFP could not voice the view that the opinion attached to the letter of the Leader of the Opposition was suppressed and censored? These are important questions for our democracy.
The hard fact is that the Ad Hoc Committee took it upon itself to rule that only the views of a minority which the Committee likes can be recorded and that the Committee itself can choose not to record a minority view if it disagrees with it and believes that the view is not accurate or desirable.
There are plenty of examples in our institutional life and daily chronicles which prove that the ANC has not yet parted from its Soviet autocratic traditions, and is not fit to govern. I feel that this is a small but glaring example which speaks volumes.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP