The National Press Club’s “Black Wednesday” plans for this week’s vote on the Protection of State Information Bill are a distortion of facts, the ANC Chief Whip says.
“The only result this unfortunate comparison and the planned campaign, in which people are urged to dress in black, will achieve is to dilute the real history of the Black Wednesday and insult the victims of apartheid’s barbaric laws,” Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga said in the statement.
The National Press Club (NPC) has asked people opposed to the bill to wear black clothing or a black ribbon or armband to express their opposition to the bill.
The name of the campaign refers to October 19 1977 when The World, Sunday World and Christian publication Pro Veritas were banned and almost 20 people or organisations were declared banned by the apartheid government.
The name of the campaign has been changed to “Black Tuesday”, the day of the week on which the bill will be voted on in the National Assembly,
“Let’s tell the government we are all opposed to censorship. It’s crunch time. The nation needs to unite and stop this nonsense,” NPC chairman Yusuf Abramjee said on its Facebook page.
If the bill is passed the media will not be able to claim it acted in the pubic interest if it violated or was party to the violation of a law, or published classified information to substantiate a report on, for example, malpractice or corruption in government.
However, Motshekga said comparing the facts of Black Wednesday and the intended new law was “not only an irresponsible act of protest, but also gravely senseless”.
“The reality of South Africa’s vicious history should teach all of us never to campaign in a manner that trivialises the deep pain and suffering experienced by the majority of our people,” he said.
After going through 123 amendments, the bill would be voted on in the National Assembly on Tuesday, but it was not the end of the road, he said.
It still had to move through the National Council of Provinces, before reaching finalisation.
He said the government had no intention to ban, torture or murder journalists and the rejection of a public interest defence was in line with international best practice on security in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“We believe this is blatantly insensitive and a distortion of history.”
* On Black Wednesday, editors Percy Qoboza and Aggrey Klaaste were taken to solitary confinement where they spent five months.
According The Sowetan archive, journalists such as Mathatha Tsedu, Joe Tlholoe, who is now the Press Ombudsman; and Don Mattera were detained and after their jail stay, were banned for five years.
Organisations banned included the Beyers Naude’s Christian Institute and the Union of Black Journalists.
“Black Wednesday” followed the death in police detention of black consciousness activist Steve Biko, as well as a campaign to resist Bophutatswana becoming a “homeland” independent of South Africa.