This morning thousands of people gathered in Cape Town in opposition of the Secrecy Bill. The Right to Know Campaign has spent weeks planning the event and as a volunteer I have had the opportunity to see first hand the amount of effort, time and patience that was required to pull it off. I had never helped plan a march before and I had this naïve perception of it being an organic event which just happened. However, the reality was that it had to be made to happen. The list of things which had to be done was endless: application for the protest, water, transport for communities, food, press release, photographers, booking an ambulance, painting placards, renting two-way radios, ordering t-shirts, posters, pamphlets, renting a PA system and a truck, inviting speakers, contacting Parliament, praying for good weather…
This morning, under a clear blue Cape Town sky, all that was left to do was to let the South African people march towards Parliament. The march started on the corner of Tennant Street and Keizersgracht Street where the crowds started gathering around 10h00. People were excited and had dressed in the Right to Know Campaign’s colours – red, black and white.
Over 2000 people walked along Keizersgracht Street, left onto Buitenkant Street and next right down Roeland to Parliament. People peered down from their flats as we flooded the streets. Ladies having their hair highlighted came out from the hairdressers to see what was happening. The media was out in full force with photographers and film crews interviewing the protesters – including me!
What I told these ladies was the same thing that I tell everyone I know. That the Secrecy Bill poses a threat to South African democracy. That we, as South Africans, need to stand up to the politicians who have refused to acknowledge this. The fact that the Bill does not include a public interest defense is not just a threat to journalists but also to whistleblowers, academics and communities. As it stands, the government can classify information and if a person publishes that information they can face a prison sentence of up to 25 years. It is something that we will not let pass. It is a draconian piece of legislature that has no place in the democracy which was fought long and hard for.
When we got to Parliament we listened to some of the speakers who had come to voice their opposition to the Bill. South Africa’s former intelligence minister, Ronnie Kasrils, climbed up onto the flatbed of the truck where he lambasted the Bill and the government who is tying to push it through.
I have been asked by journalists why I, as a former minister, and a member of the African National Congress and the SA Communist Party, am at this march. The answer… is very simple. When your mother or father, brother or sister, your family, are doing the wrong thing…you raise your voice and say: ‘That is wrong, it must not be done!…This all-embracing secrecy bill… we smell and suspect is not about the real secrets that must be defended, but it’s to prevent those silly leaders who have egg on their face, who have been exposed by the media for doing foolish and embarrassing things.
Max Price the Vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, cartoonist Zapiro and TAC activist Zackie Achmat also addressed the crowd.
The Bill will come before the National Assembly this Tuesday. There is a chance that good sense will not prevail and that it will be passed. Not only would this be a betrayal of the South African people, it would also represent a collective blind-eye being turned on our Constitution and its values. If this happens the fight will continue. The South African people and civil society will not rest until the Bill is either fit to pass in our country or scrapped.
This Monday the Right to Know Campaign will be holing candlelight vigils across the nation. We hope the night before the vote on the Bill to show government that we will not stand by while our right to freedom of expression and access to information is snuffed out.
Viva Right to Know! Viva!