Unemployed Peoples Movement: ‘This Bill is Burying us Alive’

3 February 2012

Unemployed People’s Movement Press Statement

‘This Bill is Burying us Alive’

Report on the Public Hearings on the Secrecy Bill in Port Elizabeth

Today’s copy of The Herald newspaper has a big picture on the front page of UPM activist Ma Gladys Mphepho of Grahamstown expressing her anger at the Secrecy Bill. She is quoted as follows:

‘This bill is burying us alive. You have never told us about this bill. We are not stupid, we are senior citizens even if we don’t have money. Don’t treat us like fools. You are giving tenders to your friends and our children go hungry and you want to hide that corruption with this Bill. Do you want us to go back to de Klerk?’

Yesterday’s hearings in Port Elizabeth were conducted in a way that was aimed as suppressing criticism rather than allowing open discussion. The Chairperson of the hearing Johannes Tau told that people that this is the Bill and that we must just accept it. He said that the government is trying to protect us against foreign spies and imperialism. He said that spies could topple Zuma.

We are oppressed by councillors, party structures and the police everyday. We have never been oppressed by a foreign spy. No foreign spy has forced us to use buckets instead of toilets, to live in shacks instead of houses or to live for years and years without work. No foreign spy has broken up our meetings or banned us or arrested us, beaten us or banned us from engaging in political activities for months while we are on bail on charges that are later dropped. The government is trying to invent foreign enemies to try and win back the confidence of the people. Even Mkhuseli Jack, a very high ranking person in the ANC, bravely said “I am concerned that all these threats of possible national dangers are tantamount to creating scapegoats.” And we all know that if Zuma is toppled it will be by Malema and Sexwale and not by foreign spies. The ANC can’t make their internal fights a problem for the whole country.

The chairperson could not provide a real explanation as to why we need this bill.

He was also very intolerant. He would not allow people to speak if they could not quote a section of the Bill even though no copies of the Bill were provided. He tried to force all discussion of the Bill onto the technocratic terrain where experts are strong and ordinary people are weak when in fact everybody knows that democracy is supposed to be the rule of the people and not the rule of the experts. If you mentioned unemployment or poverty they would just cut you. They would just turn off your microphone. If there are public hearings then the public must be given a space to express ourselves.

When people could speak they were very clear that the issues that were important were poverty, housing, unemployment and corruption and that the government should be focussing on these issues. Some people also said that this Bill is trying to make sure that the ANC will rule until Jesus Christ come back and that they are preparing themselves to defeat opposition – in the streets or at the ballot box. ANC stalwart Phila Nkayi who works in the provincial legislature said that these issues must be discussed and he directly opposed the chairperson’s view that these issues have no relevance.

The chairperson said that everywhere else in the province the Bill was given the thumbs-up. If that’s true it would not be surprising in light of the behaviour of the chairperson.

People also really stressed that they have no confidence in the police whatsoever. They stressed that the police are part of the state and work closely with party structures. They stressed that the police that we are now supposed to take information about corruption too are the same police that are killing and beating people who are protesting. Therefore there has to be a public interest clause for making information public. The police are not neutral or independent and the idea that people must take information to the police is ridiculous and was rejected with the contempt that it deserves.

If this Bill is passed into law we are prepared to work with all other poor people’s movements to occupy the streets and to take this Bill to the Constitutional Court.

The absence of COSATU in the hearings was disappointing. In Durban at COP 17 they said that they were with the protesters but then they took over the protest and made it pro-government. We will prefer to work with other poor people’s movements in this struggle as it is clear that COSATU cannot be trusted.

There is a real crisis of growing poverty and inequality in South Africa and there are two choices as to how to resolve it. The state can either become more authoritarian and try to contain the aspirations of the people with brute force and propaganda or it can become more democratic and encourage people to debate, organise and mobilise so that society, including the economy, can be democratised from below. The ANC are taking the path of making society more authoritarian and we will oppose this in every way that we can where ever and when ever we can. As they try to criminalise poverty and dissent and to pretend that legitimate dissent is just about making ‘service delivery’ happen more quickly we will try to politicise poverty, repression and dissent.

Pammy Isaac 084 781 5832

Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462

Ben Mafani 078 087 5177

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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