The ANC copying the Nats
It’s difficult to comprehend how such enormous powers assumed by private individuals can be acceptable
GIVEN RECENT STEPS against the media by the police, it now appears to be the case that one can risk a criminal charge merely by being in receipt of a faxed message. Until the authorities reveal more than they have so far in their charges against Sun
day Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, would it be reasonable to assume someone could face the wrath of the police simply for being the passive recipient of a fax?
That conundrum brings to mind a piece of apartheid legislation that would have fitted in well as part of the work of the great Czech writer Franz Kafka. His famous book The Trial takes the reader into the nightmare of the collectivist, bureaucratic state where no one knows if what they are doing is wrong, charges against them lack specificity while those accused of unsaid crimes struggle, in their void of information, to respond.
The old Nats, like the ANC today, were in a permanent state of irritation over what they saw as unnecessary interference by the press in public affairs. As part of their attempts to cast a veil over activities of the state – which they believed were the business of the National Party and nobody else – they passed in 1980 something called the National Key Points Act.
That poisonous piece of legislation made it a crime to report on anything that happened at a “key point”– as defined by the state. No pictures of anything at key points were permitted and no written or visual or vocal descriptions or publication in any way of matters to do with key points was allowed.
All that to protect the national interest. However, only the spooks who inhabited the then state’s security apparatus knew which places, installations, institutions, etc, were key points in terms of the Act and were also those in sole possession of what defined the national interest.
Thus, as a journalist, you had to be able to guess at what a key point may or may not be. You’d only discover that if publication was followed by criminal charges or if, in the pursuit of information, you disclosed to a state functionary your intent to publish something concerning what was a “key point” but which you didn’t know was a key point because everything that was a key point was secret and its existence available only to the forces of the state.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has raised concerns “with regard to the powers assumed by the minister under the Bill, including the power of the minister to take any steps which in his or her opinion may be necessary in respect of the security of these (key point) areas.
“Such wide powers,” says Cosatu, “without objective oversight can lead to abuse by the executive as it subjectively acts without accountability and control. Of greater concern is the manner in which the Bill purports to give private individuals, in their capacity as owners, the right to take any steps which in their opinion they think necessary for the security of such places. Even with the requisite oversight structures it’s difficult to comprehend how such enormous powers assumed by private individuals can be acceptable where the focus is on national security.” And then there’s this haunting passage from
The Trial by Kafka: “Once more the odious courtesies began, the first handed the knife across K to the second, who handed it across K back again to the first K, now perceived clearly that he was supposed to seize the knife himself, as it travelled from hand to hand above him, and plunge it into his own breast. But he did not do so; he merely turned his head, which was still free to move, and gazed around him. He could not completely rise to the occasion, he could not relieve the officials of all their tasks; the responsibility for this last failure of his lay with him who had not left him the remnant of strength necessary for the deed...”