In an opinion piece, the Daily Maverick's Ivo Vegter questions the government's sanity - "[a] new bill before Parliament will effectively outlaw weather information that is not provided by the state-owned SA Weather Service," he says. "Warn someone that a storm is brewing, and you could go to jail for many years, or pay millions in fines."
Talking about the weather is overrated, Vegter agrees, but stresses that small-talk ought not to be illegal, "[a]nd it certainly shouldn't be illegal on the odd occasion that the talk is about interesting weather and it affects your planning for the day."
A bill amending the South African Weather Service Act of 2001 includes a new section that proposes penalties of up to ten years in prison, or a R10 million fine, if you issue anything that could be interpreted as a "severe weather-related warning". It has technically been an offence to issue such warnings all along, Vegter says, but no penalties were prescribed in law. "Now we learn that committing this obscure offence could get you a R10 million fine or land you in prison for 10 years. For context, at last count only 36% of prisoners served more time for their murders, rapes and robberies," he notes.
These draconian restrictions are supposed to be justified in a memorandum attached to the bill. Vegter wonders about that. The memo claims: "...it is necessary that only the Weather Service must be able to issue severe weather-related warnings in order to ensure that there is only one authoritative voice." Yet, reading the resolution, one finds that it does not even mention, let alone require, a monopoly on the provision of weather-related warnings. In fact, it encourages governments to "strengthen their commitment to the free and unrestricted exchange of meteorological and related data and products". This kind of law makes South Africa less competitive, less safe, and less free, Vegter says.
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