By: Dominique Antoine
International Law Review, Junior Associate
It is undeniable how much South Africa has progressed after forty years of being controlling under the apartheid regime. This suppressive period was coupled with unjust segregation, corruption and strict censorship over publications, symbols and artwork. Just sixteen years after apartheid has ended, South Africa is now not only the continent’s largest economy but has truly represented itself as a democratic beacon after successfully hosting the World Cup in 2010.
However, the nation is now finding itself in the midst of a major public relations problem as business executives, civic leaders and journalists strongly oppose the Protection of Information Bill that is now moving through Parliament. This bill, as proposed the African National Congress (A.N.C.), would call for imprisonment for those who disclose information declared in the “public interest.” This bill is arguably in response to an article in the paper on the “black empowerment deal” – an article that was meant to assist the disadvantaged but actually benefited the President’s son, Jacob Zuma, in his investments. The A.N.C. has even proposed a tribunal to regulate the media.
Many countries have newspaper articles that reveal politicians in an unfavorable light and South Africa is no exception. But, such articles are great examples of democracy at its peak because it is protected speech and press that is candid, unpopular and controversial. Journalists and editors, in South Africa, feel that the restrictions on press control suggested by the A.N.C. would lead to the censorship that was once experienced under apartheid – where thousands of books and newspapers were banned. Citizens have complained that the bill is a threat to press freedom and attempt to disguise corruption.
The South African government has openly expressed that the press is filled with astounding dishonesty, but the cabinet, including President Zuma, is disturbed at suggestions that the government is trying to control the media. Rather, the cabinet argues that that the A.N.C. supports fighting corruption. A government spokesman, Themba Maesko, has addressed the public, stating that the A.N.C. proposal was not a topic being considered by the government. However, despite the government’s response to the strong opposition that the bill is facing, its motives are still questionable.