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Support Black Tuesday, open letter to Zuma from Archbishop

Today, 29 November 2011 is another Black Tuesday as a protest against the infamous Bill and, as the Association for Communication and Advertising, SANEF, ProJourn and Cape Town Press Club call for its support, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, writes an open letter to President Zuma.
The Black Tuesday campaign is an initiative of the National Press Club (NPC).

Open letter calling for return of the Bill

Dear Mr President,

I write to you as one who grew up under a system that oppressed and censored the media - a system that invoked fear in anyone who dared to read, or embrace, different views to those of the government of the day. The passage of the Protection of State Information Bill has stirred up in me vivid memories of my time as a student in the 1980s at Wits, and the traumatising experience of police ransacking our residence as they looked for classified material. The undercurrent of fear running through our lives that this created is so totally in contradiction to the open atmosphere of constructively critical readings of our life and times, which we so much need in South Africa today.

Of course, every country has state secrets, and needs to classify them as such and protect them. I fully understand this. That South Africa needs to replace the old law from apartheid times, I also fully agree. Yet I also hear the cry that the current bill passed this week lacks the one necessary thing, an adequate public interest clause that relates to the criminality of those who 'transgress' on these grounds. I have heard some lawyers, with politicians, argue that this is not necessary, and that the law will not be used to penalise those who bring wrongdoing to light. But across the journalistic world, among members of civil society and trade unions, and in community-based and faith-based organisations, there are wide-spread concerns at both the severe sentences, and the wide-ranging provisions for classification of material by any organ of state. These have the potential to create an atmosphere similar to repressive apartheid censorship, and thereby gag the truth; hide corruption; conceal maladministration, incompetence and unjust practices; and stunt our open society at every level from the national and international to the most local.

Therefore, I respectfully appeal to you, sir, to consider sending the bill back to cabinet before signing it into law. We know that, if signed as it stands, it will be challenged in the Constitutional Court. Surely, South Africa needs the time and energy this will consume, to be directed to the far more urgent needs of social cohesion and rebuilding the ruins left by apartheid. These are so evident in most of our townships, for example in their health, education and housing infrastructure, let alone across rural South Africa.

As a fellow South African and Christian, I ask you not to sign this bill. Listen again to the cries of your people.

Wear black

Odette van der Haar, CEO of the ACA, encourages all members of the association to support the Black Tuesday campaign called for by the National Press Club (NPC) and don black in backing not only media freedom but the right of all South Africans to access of information.

The call comes in response to requests received from members of the media and public to raise awareness about the Secrecy Bill, which was passed in Parliament last week Tuesday.

Van der Haar stated, "The ACA is deeply concerned about the attempt on the part of government to restrict access to information, as we believe that the free flow of information and opinion is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its position in regard to the Protection of Information Bill as these attempts to control the flow of information are not in the public interest."

SANEF chair Mondli Makhanya says, "We agree that it's important to keep the awareness going. We also appeal to media houses to continue highlighting the problems and dangers of the POIB."

Pickets outside media houses

SANEF is also supporting the NPC's call to have pickets outside media houses between 12 noon and 12.30pm today.

Senior editors are scheduled to meet with Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and representatives of the Right2Know campaign this week to discuss the POIB. SANEF says that, while the activism continued, it will continue to "engage" government and other stakeholders. "It's important that the talking continues."

ProJourn, the Professional Journalists' Association of South Africa, and the Cape Town Press Club also extend and call on the public to support Black Tuesday by donning black.

Updated at 9.59am on 29 November 2011.