Recently the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs, Mr Gigaba, announced his intention to push legislation for censorship of the internet and also the mobile phone network, supposedly to block people from accessing pornography. We believe that aside from just affecting negatively the civil freedoms instilled in the Bill of Rights, this will have dire consequences for freedom of expression, and the right to access information - and the potential threat that this legislation will be made to serve a portion of society that wishes to police the morality of South Africans.
As has been documented in the media and also in newsletters of some private sector bodies, there is a concerted effort being made by certain religious extremist groups to influence Government to adopt their narrow-minded and ultra-conservative views. It would also seem by the response from the office of the Minister, (see at the end of this article) that they are succeeding.
This matter has arisen based on the supposed premise that pornography "should" be banned in the public domain - a debate which was originally about CHILD pornography and the genuine harm which this causes children affected by this dark trade. This proposal has now (predictably) been expanded to include ALL pornography - and become an excuse to act like Thought Police and to provide a convenient opportunity for the government to re-introduce censorship laws - which will allow them to apply it to ANYTHING which the government determines to be "inappropriate" or "undesirable" - and as has been made crystal clear by the response from the Department - this is rooted in a strongly religious fundamentalist motive.
I received the following response from the Democratic Alliance, whom we approached in this regard, on the matter of the proposed censorship bill:
"Dear Ms Engela,
The Democratic Alliance would like to thank you for bringing this issue to our attention that troubles you and certainly many other South Africans.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) believes that Deputy Minister Malusi Gigaba’s statement that he wants a complete ban on all digital pornography is inconsistent with two fundamental rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights: the right to privacy (Section 13) and the right to freedom of expression (Section 16).
In a constitutional democracy, it is not appropriate for the government to tell private citizens what they may or may not watch, listen to, or read in their own private space. Mr. Gigaba’s statement amounts to a crude form of moral policing that seeks to censor material on the internet and cell phones deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the government. It is not the role of the government to decide what is right or wrong on behalf of private citizens.
His exact words were: ‘There is no reason why the internet should be provided without the necessary restrictive mechanisms built into it’.
This kind of talk is common in totalitarian states, not a constitutional democracy like South Africa.
Placing restrictions on content allowed on the internet and cell phones sets a dangerous precedent that the ANC could, and would, abuse. The DA condemns the Deputy Minister’s proposal and calls on him to formally withdraw it.
Thank you again for your concern.
Public Liaison Officer
Democratic Alliance National Leaders Office
Parliament of the Republic of South Africa"
This of course makes the threat posed to the civil rights of the individual perfectly clear.
Hooray for the DA - for being a BIG political party that supports and includes the Pink Community - and for supporting the civil rights of everyone in the Bill of Rights and not just a few - even the rights which some of them as individuals - and other parties as a whole, may not agree with, and for having the willingness to defend the Constitution and to engage those who would play God with the rights and lives of the people! That is what makes a democracy great - and what will one day make our democracy great. Despite all our shortcomings, it is reassuring to have such a party as the official Opposition, in so young a democracy as ours.
Unfortunately, along with some light at the end of the tunnel, there has to be a train to go along with it. By this I mean the response of the Minister of Home Affairs office to objections being directed at the Department about the validity and merit of this proposed censorship law:
"---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Thamsanqa Msomi
Date: 4 June 2010 15:25
Subject: Concern over the proposed Act
Cc: Bayanda Mzoneli
, Patrick Williams
I hope this email will find you well. Your email on the concerns you have about the meeting held between the Deputy Minister and Justice Alliance was received from Mr Patrick Williams.
Whilst we appreciate and respect your views, it is quite obvious that we share different and conflicting value systems and opinions on this and other matters. Perhaps we should just acknowledge our different viewpoints in this regard and leave matters at that.
Head of the Deputy Minister's office
Ministry of Home Affairs"
We would appreciate it if you would spend the next hour wisely - by drawing up in your own words, a letter expressing your feelings on this arrogant response by the Department, who clearly feels that a so-called "value system" - clearly in agreement with the censorship proposal, is to determine civil rights, and as an excuse to close off any further discussion on a matter which South Africans are perfectly entitled to lodge their objections!
Basically they are telling people "this is what WE want, and if you don't like it, you can just shut up and accept it"! You could voice your opinion that a democracy does not work that way.
If a government shuts off public input and blocks off all discussion of a decision, and begins acting autonomously in a way which strips away the civil rights of its people, then a country effectively ceases to function as a democracy.
I think the best thing to do right now is to ask concerned members of the public to send letters of objection to the Department, as well as to their local papers, and to their local ward Councilors/ public representatives. It is time we used the democratic system to work to the benefit of keeping this country a democracy.
You could send a second letter to the DA firstname.lastname@example.org, to show them your appreciation for protecting the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa, and also for supporting the spirit of the same Constitution which grants us all liberty, freedom and equality.
Perhaps you feel like sending an email to the right wing "Big Brother" group fueling this fire - the so-called "Justice Alliance of South Africa", who have taken it upon themselves to play with our civil rights and to wave a finger in our faces about our inadequate morality and lack of falling in line with their religious beliefs. Perhaps you could tell them how you feel about it, perhaps ask them where they get off telling you you are not adult enough to decide for yourself what you want to have access to.
The JASA executive board are:
"This consists of an attorney, three Pastors of different churches, a financier and John Smyth QC, the Honorary Director.
Grant Gunston (Chairman)
Stephen van Rhyn (Vice-Chairman)
Linda-Jane Tippoo - see photo, right
John Smyth (Honorary Director)"
Funny, I thought a Legal group would consist of legal professionals, not a bunch of moralizing religious fundamentalist preachers.
Their leader is a man whose legal expertise has supported Doctors For Life, a group which is no stranger to dragging the Legal system down to the level of religious fundamentalist grandstanding in shameful opposition to human rights. Clearly the JASA, active since 2007, is a religious extremist group intent on using the Law as a means to an end. In fact, their own mission statement says so: "The Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA) is a coalition of corporations, individuals and churches committed to upholding and fighting for justice and the highest moral standards in South African society. Our Constitution provides that we should work through Parliament, the courts, the media and in any other proper way to achieve this end".
I'm pretty sure the right wing thought the key to winning the censorship battle in South Africa - and the right to tell people how to live in their own space, would be to choose something to ban which they thought most people would back them on - like pornography. Lucky for us, not all South Africans are as ignorant - or as fanatical and puritanical as they think we are.
If or when this gets to Parliament or tabling as a Bill, it should receive stiff opposition. And even if it were to pass, it will face court action. But regardless of how this plays out, being unconstitutional, it cannot stand. It can't be allowed to.