South Africa’s President Zuma Rejects `Secrecy Bill’; Sends it Back to Parliament for Review

12 Sep 2013

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has refused to sign into law the contested Protection of State Information Bill, an official secrets class of legislation which was dubbed the “Secrecy Bill’’ and which was vigorously opposed by the media and civil rights institutions since it was introduced into parliament in 2008. The Bill, after many amendments, was passed by both Houses of Parliament and merely required President Zuma’s signature for it to become law. But President Zuma has now referred the legislation back to parliament for further review on the ground that it is unconstitutional.

The media whose views were expressed by the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it welcomed President Zuma’s decision and said it would lend help in trying to craft acceptable legislation. Sanef had claimed that the Bill was unconstitutional and that if the President signed it into law it would refer it to the Constitutional Court to seek a ruling that it was unconstitutional. In the last month Sanef collaborated with representatives of the national publishers’ body in sending a letter to President Zuma urging him to refer the legislation back to parliament for review.

President Zuma issued a statement saying that after consideration of the Bill he held the view that it did not pass constitutional muster. His specific objections were that sections of the Bill `lack meaning and coherence, consequently are irrational and accordingly are unconstitutional’. While the main objections to the Bill came from journalists and lawyers with journalists and whistle-blowers being regarded as the most vulnerable, authors and writers were also regarded as potential victims of the legislation when enacted.

Raymond Louw, Vice–President, SA PEN

12th September 2013