Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
“The system of government in South Africa before 27 April 1994 resulted in a secretive and unresponsive culture in public and private bodies which often led to an abuse of power and human rights violations.”
These are the words in the preamble to the Promotion of Access to Information Act, which was enacted to give effect to the right enshrined in Section 32(a) of the Constitution – “Everyone has the right of access to any information held by the state”.
That is why, when the Protection of State Information Bill comes before the President for signing, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe will advise the President to first refer it to the Constitutional Court. Because thousands of South Africans, together with NGOs, religious leaders, traditional leaders, trade union leaders, Members of Parliament, academics, law experts, opinion-makers and journalists have pointed out that the Secrecy Bill, as it is commonly known, is unconstitutional.
In fact, every opposition party in Parliament has united against the Secrecy Bill. The IFP has joined hands with the DA, COPE, the UDM, ACDP, FF+, UCDP, PAC, ACP and AZAPO. On this issue, we speak with one voice, because the Secrecy Bill threatens to shield corruption in Government from the eyes of the public.
As a joint opposition against the Secrecy Bill, we have held public meetings in the Western and Eastern Cape. Tomorrow, we go to KwaZulu Natal. We are continuing our fight against this Bill because, despite unanimous outrage and dissent from the people they purport to serve, the ANC remains determined to pass this legislation. They have made all the concessions they are willing to make and, in three days’ time, the National Council of Provinces will send the Bill back to Parliament to be finalised.
The concessions are good. Municipalities will no longer have wide ranging powers to classify information, thereby effectively keeping it out of the public domain. But there is one fundamental issue on which the ANC refuses to budge, and that is the issue of a public interest defence.
A public interest defence would allow a journalist or a member of the public or a government official to disclose classified information, without ending up in prison, if it is in the public interest that such information be revealed. In other words, if someone got wind of massive fraud in a government tender process, even if the relevant documents were classified as Secret, the fraud could be exposed without the whistle-blower going to prison.
The ANC refuses to include a public interest defence in the Secrecy Bill. Under enormous pressure from every segment of society, they have agreed only to allow disclosure of classified information which reveals criminal activity.
To my mind, this reinforces the trend in the ruling Party of seeing how close one can get to the line of criminality and still claim innocence.
The Secrecy Bill could protect shady tender practices, mismanagement of funds, political manipulation, abuse of power, incompetence that compromises service delivery, and misuse of taxpayers’ money. All of that, says the ANC, should reasonably be hidden from the public eye, because if it’s not strictly criminal, it’s okay.
I disagree wholeheartedly, as do millions of sound-minded, honest citizens. How can we speak of integrity in leadership in a country in which a public figure like Mr Malema proudly boasts, “Zuma has 700 charges against him, I have only one.”? A leader should keep as far from the line of criminality as possible, not dance arrogantly along the precipice.
Our country’s absorption in the trial of Mr Julius Malema has exposed some bizarre perspectives. I was amazed that some of his supporters claim he has done nothing wrong, and if he has he shouldn’t be charged right now. The court will judge on the criminal charge, but any thinking person should be able to see that this is not a man of integrity. He has done plenty wrong.
The cry that the charges against him are “politically motivated” does nothing to change the fact that there are charges against him. As Mr Aubrey Matshiqi wrote in the Business Day this week, “The best way of insulating oneself against the manipulation of investigative, prosecutorial and judicial processes is to avoid committing crime, especially if one is a protagonist in ANC internal battles.”
Following our successful joint opposition rally against the Secrecy Bill in Port Elizabeth in May I posed a question in my online letter.
I wrote: we must ask ourselves whether this coming together of our society against the Secrecy Bill is about a single issue, or is representative of a much deeper and wider malaise which calls for a broader and deeper political response.
I think that question has been answered by the ANC’s adamant rejection of a public interest defence in the Bill. There is indeed a deeper malaise in our country’s leadership. There is a great misunderstanding and acceptance of corruption as par for the course, so long as it doesn’t lead to prosecution.
In the narrative of the ruling Party, if it is not exposed, corruption is acceptable, and if it doesn’t cross the line into criminality, abuse of power is okay. That is the message in the narrow public interest defence the ANC is willing to concede towards the Secrecy Bill. It is the same message that pervades much of the action, or lack of action, when it comes to integrity, accountability and transparency in Government.
The Promotion of Access to Information Act was enacted to “foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public and private bodies, to actively promote a society in which the people of South Africa (are able) to more fully exercise and protect all of their rights.”
We have a right to know when our Government is abusing power or mismanaging funds, which affect both the delivery of services and the integrity of our Republic. It also affects who we will vote for when it comes to elections. Thus this goes to the heart of democracy.
Tomorrow, all opposition leaders in Parliament will converge in KwaZulu Natal at the Pinetown Civic Centre to speak to people about corruption and the Secrecy Bill. Together, we are leading a charge against corruption, for the sake of our country. Indeed, tomorrow opposition parties will form a Coalition Against Corruption and we will ask all South Africans of goodwill to join us in becoming whistle-blowers against corruption.
As the champion of integrity, the IFP will blow the whistle. Please join us in every corner of South Africa, so that the people may finally be heard.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe MP, Press Officer to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, on 082 729 2510.