DA to fight info bill on several fronts: Zille

24 November 2011 - 16:06 By Sapa

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille has committed her party to fight the Protection of State Information Bill on several fronts.

"Black Tuesday", when the bill was approved by the National Assembly, would one day be seen as a turning point in South Africa's democracy, she told a media briefing at parliament on Thursday.

"Whatever happens in the months ahead, Tuesday will be remembered as the day that the ANC voted against media freedom - a cornerstone of our democracy."

Some people had resigned themselves to a future under the act, with the censorship implications thought to have died with apartheid.

"The DA has not given up. Far from it. We have fought against the bill since its inception and we will keep on fighting."This legislation has no place in a free and democratic South Africa," Zille said.

Among other things, she had asked President Jacob Zuma for an urgent meeting to discuss the immediate as well as the far-reaching implications of the bill for South Africa.

"News of the vote in the National Assembly has been covered worldwide. Human Rights Watch, for example, described it as 'a blow to freedom of expression and democratic accountability'," she said.

The response of the international currency markets was immediate. The rand slumped to a 30-month low, which analysts attributed to growing international reservations about South Africa's future.

In the coming weeks, the DA would also launch an e-mobilisation campaign to increase pressure on the ANC to withdraw the bill in its current form.

Lawyers had been instructed to look into the bill's validity.

The DA had argued from the outset that the bill should not have been tagged by parliament's Joint Tagging Mechanism (JTM) as a Section 75 Bill -- defined in the constitution as an ordinary bill not affecting the provinces.

Instead, because the bill had implications for provincial archives, which Schedule Five of the constitution determined was an exclusive competency of provinces, it should have been tagged as a Section 76 Bill -- an ordinary bill affecting the provinces.

"This is a crucial distinction, and could well be the bill's undoing," Zille said.

Incorrect tagging of the bill would render it unconstitutional, and therefore open to legal challenge.

The DA would also try to have the bill amended as it passed through the National Council of Provinces process, and would petition Zuma in terms of Section 79 of the Constitution.

This section allows Zuma to refer the bill back to the Assembly if he has reservations about its constitutionality.

Zille said the DA would further lobby MPs from other parties to support a Section 80 petition.

"The Section 80 petition process is the final option, should all other avenues have been exhausted," she said.

In terms of this section, MPs could apply to the Constitutional Court for an order declaring that all or part of an act is unconstitutional.

The application had to be supported by at least one third of the members of the Assembly, and be made within 30 days of the president assenting to and signing the act.

"We believe that it is possible to acquire the 134 signatures needed to make an application to the Constitutional Court."

Collectively, the combined opposition holds 136 seats in the House -- two more than required to lodge a Constitutional Court application through the office of the Speaker.

The DA was prepared to use extra-parliamentary means to stop the bill, as it currently stood, from becoming law, including the legal avenues at its disposal, Zille said.