VOICING DISSENT: Black-clad protesters demonstrate in front of Parliament as part of the Black Tuesday campaign before the National Assembly passed the secrecy bill on November 22 last year. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

WHILE the African National Congress (ANC) stands accused of rigging provincial public hearings to favour approval of the "secrecy bill", the deluge of written submissions to the National Council of Provinces will not be so easy to ignore.

Frequently during the six weeks that the council's ad hoc committee on the Protection of State Information Bill held public hearings in the provinces, organisations and opposition parties complained that those supporting the bill were allowed plenty of time while those opposed to it got short shrift.

But now thousands of people have put their names to written submissions and petitions that either call for the bill to be scrapped or significantly amended. This provides a stern test for the ANC's commitment to "listen" to the people of SA.

The 261 written submissions to the committee range from one-word e-mails saying simply "No", to complex multi-page analyses of the bill from the likes of veteran struggle lawyer George Bizos to the Human Rights Commission, the public protector and the Open Democracy Advice Centre.

One letter came from Kim Coward, who writes he had been an engineer in the military sector for many years and both wrote and read classified documents.

"What I have found from time to time is the corruption that goes with military-based contracts. Under the new protection of information bill I will not be able to reveal any information on the corrupt activities of military contracts which is in the interests of the public because public money is being spent." This is an insult to his integrity, Mr Coward writes.

Maoke Tsetsi of Orange Farm writes: "I am personally against the proposed Protection of State Information Bill . from my side it is unfair to pass into law because of the countless corruption incidents that are happening in my beloved country". He concludes with a plea to his fellow countrymen not to destroy the country.

Ben Erasmus writes that there is no support for the bill in society because "of the fact that it is wide open for misuse by the government of the day".

"The whole of the South African public is emphasising this situation but only a couple of politicians hold a different opinion. The question is: Is the massive majority wrong and a couple of politicians correct?"

Godwyn Symons writes: "I think this bill should be scrapped. SA does not have any enemies and anything concerning the defence force should not be protected information, especially in the case of arms procurement. This should be very transparent. In the case of politicians nothing done by them should be kept secret, they are totally answerable to the voters as their representatives".

Gary Southern writes : "I left SA in the '60s for largely political reasons. I started returning in the '90s and have built houses and recently bought a farm. I've certainly created a fair amount of work in this region. However, if the bill passes in a form much as it is at present I will gradually sell off my assets and return overseas."

Tracey Shaw writes: "A public interest clause is required to ensure that whistle-blowers and media are not targeted for exposing the rampant corruption that is currently taking place in government.

"This will leave too much power in the hands of government that can be abused by classifying information that is in the public interest. If the arms deal had been classified, there would not have been an opportunity to expose all the corruption and corrupt officials that have been implicated."

Brandt Botes writes: "Do not criminalise whistle-blowers, journalists or anyone involved in protecting a whistle-blower. The bill must protect those who release classified information that is in the public interest."

He suggests that an independent body appointed by Parliament and not one appointed by the state security minister should be able to review decisions about what information may be classified.

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za