You are invited to cover the Open Democracy Colloquium which is to be co-convened by the Nelson Mandela Foundation & the Institute for Security Studies.
Where is open democracy is South Africa today?
Join the Open Democacy Colloquium co-convened by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Institute of Security Studies.
It is 20 years since Nelson Mandela’s government appointed a Task Group on Open Democracy, headed by Deputy President Mbeki’s legal advisor Advocate Mojanku Gumbi, to draft a Bill which would give effect to the Constitution’s right of access to information. A broadly consultative process saw the emergence of a draft bill with four primary elements: the provision of information held by both public and non-public bodies; the protection of privacy; the protection of whistleblowers; and “government in the sunshine”, namely public access to meetings of public bodies. The drafters envisaged an omnibus piece of legislation providing an integrated instrument for defining freedom of information in South Africa. The vision informing the process was an embrace of transparency mindful of legitimate restrictions.
The Task Group very quickly gave up on the feasibility of an integrated instrument. Government in the sunshine was jettisoned. Whistleblower protection was provided by the Protected Disclosures Act (2000). Public access to information was legislated by the Promotion of Access to Information Act (2000). The Protection of Personal Information Act (2013) addresses privacy. And then, of course, we have the ‘Secrecy Bill’, the Protection of State Information Bill (POSIB), a cross-cutting instrument which promises to privilege concealing over revealing in relation to all other information legislation.
The latter was passed by Parliament in 2013 but still awaits signing into law by the President. It has generated widespread and sustained opposition. And yet, in its earliest iteration (2008) it incorporated progressive provisions such as the automatic declassification of apartheid-era public records.
POSIB as well as other proposed restrictions on information give us pause to ask, Where is open democracy in South Africa today? What have been the successes and failures of the last 20 years in relation to the measure set by the Constitution and the vision adopted initially by the Task Group on Open Democracy? What are the key issues confronting those who embrace freedom of information? Where to now with the ‘Secrecy Bill’?
Institute for Security Studies, 6 Spin Street, Cape Town
- Judith February (Chair)
- Oupa Bodibe
- Mukelani Dimba
- Murray Hunter
- Alison Tilley
- Khaya Xintolo
Verne Harris: Director, Research and Archive, Nelson Mandela Foundation, email@example.com