Ruling on national key point disclosure reserved
THE TWO-YEAR battle to unveil the secrecy shrouding national key points landed in the high court in Joburg yesterday, with access to information issues pitted against state security concerns.
Having failed in an October 2012 bid to get the minister of police to release a list of sites declared national key points, the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) and the South African History Archive (SAHA) hauled the minister of police and the minister of defence and military veterans before Judge Roland Sutherland.
Arguing on behalf of the two organisations, advocate Steven Budlender SC said records of the national key points and bank statements of the account used for the safekeeping of such properties should be released in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
Advocate Viwe Notshe SC, for the State, argued that releasing such information would “prejudice the defence and safety of the Republic”. The bank account, he said, did not exist.
“The mere mention of the name of a place will attract unnecessary attention to that place. An area is declared a national key point if it appears to the minister that it is so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation would prejudice the Republic or that it is necessary or expedient for the safety of the Republic or in the best interests that the place is so declared,” Notshe said.
This argument, however, did not hold, said Budlender, as the National Key Point Act also did not prohibit the disclosure of such areas or properties.
Budlender said “unnecessary attention doesn’t demonstrate any danger to the state” and that disclosure of key points would in no way endanger the country as it was already a known fact that OR Tambo International Airport, the busiest and biggest airport on the continent, was a key point.
“If it’s a key point or not, if the dark forces to which my learned friend (Notshe) alludes to were to endanger the safety of this country, OR Tambo Airport would be a great place to start.”
Other key points had been listed in Parliament, and that had not posed any security risks.
“It would be difficult if what we were requesting is the address… the security measures. It shouldn’t be assumed that secrecy is an aid to security,” he said.
Along with advocate Matse- leng Lekoane, representing the media, Budlender referred to an incident last year in which a reporter and photographer working for The Star were interrogated after witnessing and taking photos of warders assaulting a prisoner.
Judgment was reserved.
‘TELL US’: Members of the Right2Know Campaign and the South African History Archives protest outside the high court in Joburg yesterday to tell the court why the public should have access to a list of national key points. They believe this basic transparency is an important step towards countering the uncontrolled secrecy and potential abuse of South Africa’s national security policies.