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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > Nuusbrief: Vrye Woord

Die ANC se aanslag op skrif – 05/11/2010: COSATU slams ANC about freedom of speech


2010-11-05

COSATU slams ANC about freedom of speech

Zwelinzima Vavi

04 November 2010

COSATU GS says secrecy law, as currently drafted, would threaten union whistleblowers

Excerpts from Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary's, address to the Daily Maverick Conference, Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton, November 4 2010. Read the entire address on Politicsweb here.

(...)

The Daily Maverick has an important role to play. We will not always agree with you but we urgently need more such unconventional and controversial players in our media, in particular more diversity of ownership, access and opinion in our media, so that it speaks for and to all South Africans.

In particular I hope you will continue to challenge the stifling monopoly of the three huge companies which own 95 per cent of our print media, and which impose a generally conservative and neoliberal consensus view of the world.

COSATU is absolutely committed to the freedom of expression, as enshrined in Clause 16 of the South African constitution, which declares that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes: ­

a. freedom of the press and other media
b. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas
c. freedom of artistic creativity
d. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

We believe that the Protection of Information Bill, as currently drafted, clearly breaches this clause. It will severely restrict all the media, but particularly publications like The Daily Maverick which seeks to probe more deeply into controversial issues.

But it will also threaten would-be whistle-blowers in the trade unions, workplaces and communities, who could face prosecution and jail for revealing incriminating evidence of corruption or incompetence by public officials who can simply classify the relevant information as “top secret” and intimidate those trying to expose their wrong-doing.
Trade unionists, in for example SAA, the SABC and various municipalities, have been the most successful whistle-blowers, but could be forced to keep their mouths shut by this new law.

It is vital, given the daily allegations and revelations of corruption and misuse of public resources, that government, the media and the general public have access to all the information, so that the allegations can be thoroughly investigated and action can be taken against offenders, while the innocent who have been wrongly accused can be exonerated.

We welcome Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan's commitment that the government "will clamp down on crooks by introducing new public disclosure rules for all prospective government contracts and imposing stiff penalties on companies and individuals involved in tender corruption". The problem, however, is that so far there have been very few actual prosecutions for tender corruption.

One reason for this is the difficulty in getting the evidence. Even without the Protection of Information Bill, this week we saw the Gauteng North High Court granting the SAPS an interdict preventing the Sunday Independent from publishing allegations of nepotism within its Crime Intelligence Unit. This was granted despite the fact that the newspaper was not even legally represented. Their lawyers were stuck in traffic and did not even get a chance to present their side of the story.

How can we say we are serious about fighting corruption if we, as a society, place such restrictions on the public's right to be informed about the activities of the very organisation which is supposed to be enforcing the law?

The crux of the problem is that while everyone agrees in principle that corruption is a cancer that will undermine our democracy and destroy social cohesion if it is not cut out, we seem to be paralysed when it comes to identifying the culprits and punishing the guilty.

This has emboldened the gang of tenderpreneurs, who seem to believe they are invincible and untouchable. It was this sense of impunity of the part of the warlords in the 1980s that ravaged our communities in KwaZulu-Natal and later in Gauteng.

Our people must at all times have confidence in law enforcement institutions of our country. They must believe that they are reliable and themselves people of high integrity. Our people must believe that all their leaders, whether they are in government, political formations and civil society are men and women to whom they can report allegations of corruption and nepotism. Members of our organisations must believe their leaders are genuine and not the fakes masquerading as honest when they are prime predators looking for opportunities.

Once we remove this fear, once criminals and corrupt gang knows that they have nothing to fear and once all have been intimidated, as was the case during the apartheid regime-sponsored violence, then our country will descend into a jungle for the predatory elite. All of us have a responsibility to stop this from happening.

(...)

Issued by COSATU, November 4, 2010

 


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