Civil Society deeply concerned about roll back in democratic freedoms in South Africa

12 August 2010. Johannesburg. Civil society organisations express deep apprehension at the recent attempts to strangle the media and the freedom of expression in South Africa. On 3 August, Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested by a large posse of policemen in what appear to be intimidating tactics. He was arrested without a warrant for purportedly being in the possession of a forged letter announcing the resignation of the premier of Mpumalanaga province. He had recently authored a media report on 1 August in which he questioned the police chief's decision to lease a building to house the top brass of the police at a sum of 500 million rand for ten years. 

Relations between the government and independent media groups have been strained of late particularly in respect of the controversial Protection of Information Bill which impedes access to information, and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal to adjudicate perceived misleading reports by the media. 

The Protection of Information Bill creates obstacles for civil society and media groups seeking to expose official malpractices by giving the government extensive powers to prevent the communication of information in the "national interest" on the pain of draconian punishments ranging from a minimum of three years imprisonment, extending up to 25 years. National interest is defined through omnibus provisions, which include broad categories such as "all matters relating to the advancement of public good", the protection of trade secrets of state organs including "profits, losses or expenditures of any person" and the "pursuit of justice, democracy, economic growth, free trade, a stable monetary system and sound international relations". 

As part the policy to bring about wider "media transformation, ownership and diversity", influential members of the ruling African National Congress are forwarding the idea of a statutory Media Appeals Tribunal to strengthen media accountability. Establishment of such a tribunal constitutes a step towards official media censorship especially as the South African media already have a self regulation body in the form of a Press Ombudsman to oversee complaints of violations of the media code of conduct adopted by the Press Council. 

Recent events make us deeply anxious that the gains made during the anti-apartheid struggle which led to the establishment of a non-racial democratic South Africa in 1994 are in danger of being eroded. We call upon the South African Government to respect cherished constitutional values which include freedom of the press and other media by: 

(i) cautioning relevant authorities against misuse of the power of arrest against those who exercise democratic dissent;
(ii) withdrawing the Protection of Information Bill in its present form as it is severely obstructive of the people's right to information; and 
(iii) taking adequate measures to ensure that that the right to express freely is protected from encroachments. 


1. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
2. CAF Southern Africa
3. The Co-operative for Research and Education (CORE)
4. Media Monitoring Africa
6. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-Southern Africa)
7. The Women's Lobby (TWL)
8. Independent Producers' Organisation
9. Southern African Media and Gender Institute
10. BizCommunity
11. Charisma Communications cc
12. The Big Issue
13. South African Labour Bulletin
14. Rural Women's Movement (RWM) of KwaZulu Natal-South Africa
15. Gay & Lesbian Network
16. RainbowUCT
17. Afesis-corplan
18. Durban YMCA
19. Jacana Media
20. Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC)
21. Cape Town TV
22. Radio Today
23. Childline South Africa
24. World AIDS Campaign
25. National Consumer Forum
26. Prudence Mabele Positive Women's Network
27. National Council of Women of SA
28. The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA)
29. Helen Suzman Foundation
30. FW de Klerk Foundation
31. The National Welfare Forum
32. International Press Institute
33. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
34. The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce & Industry
35. PEN - SA


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For more information please contact CIVICUS:



Devendra Tak ( ), Communications and Media Manager, CIVICUS
Mandeep Tiwana ( ), Policy Manager, CIVICUS
Office Tel: +27 11 8335959