The Protection of Information Bill will be passed

Jun 07, 11 The Protection of Information Bill will be passed

For most middle class folks, the Protection of Information Bill is yet another checkpoint on the list verifying a government becoming increasingly paranoid of exposing its own systemic rot. Alarming, but inexorable. The details are not overly well-reported, because the nitty gritty implications of the bill make for poor reading, however alarming they might be. Much like the arms deal, the Zuma trial, and any number of other South African political fiascos, we skim the surface and cluck our tongues disapprovingly.

And that is the depressing reality; the sense that the bill will become law, despite what popular opinion would desire. The ANC is hell-bent on ramming through a paper that is ill-conceived regardless of what is better for the country, and the bitter reality is that the citizens of this country have immense support, even now, for a president and a party who would do this. Perhaps the right2know campaign will be successful in lobbying against the bill, and it will be shelved, much like the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, until the lobbyists get weary of playing moral sentinel and they can usher it through the halls of government before anyone notices. This is a possibility, but it will not dissuade the ANC from ultimately bringing this god-awful piece of legislation into being.

From a casual observer’s perspective, to which membership I shamefully belong, the media have not done a great job of telling us why this is such a bad bill. Simply repeating over and over that the hiding of state secrets is bad because, well, it hides state secrets, is just not enough. Certainly editorials have expounded upon the wheres and whos and whys, but it is by no means the common practice of the South African public sphere, and as a consequence there is no coherent, intelligent reponse to an otherwise-idiotic bill aside from the instinctive feeling that it is just horribly rotten. The state, any state, keeps certain information confidential, often for good reason, and a government can well use this as a case for broadening the scope of just what is and is not confidential.

So ultimately we have witnessed a bickering contest between various lobby groups, opposition parties, and even retail executives and the ANC Government. Victory will thus fall to the latter almost by default, and there will be much indignant rage and anger and bitterness at a bill that should never have been conceived in the first place. We might even act surprised that something like this could ever really happen, but the real battle of this country’s freedom to information will be fought in the Constitutional Court, and not in the boardrooms and meeting halls of the public sphere.

This is because the bill is ripe for constitutional challenge. I might not know much about constitutional law, but a quick read of our constitution’s bill of rights I find it difficult to imagine how the bill does not contradict it. The question of whether the concourt is still strong enough to throw this bill out on its face is the big question though. The ridiculous amount of effort the ANC are applying in passing this bill implies a bitter, drawn-out legal battle, while for months (or even years) the bill will be the act and the act will be enforced with due zeal by its creators. In the short-term we shall suffer because of the bill, and there is barely anything short of widespread revolution that would change this. But the ultimate test is whether the will of the ANC to cover up its incompetence and corruption is greater than the will of the basic foundations of our young democracy enshrined in the constitution.

Photo by yoshiffles