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SA Writers: Sign Nadine Gordimer and André Brink’s Freedom of Speech Petition

UPDATE 26 Aug: The deadline for signing the petition is 31 August 2010.

Alert! Nadine Gordimer and André Brink have written a letter of protest against the ANC’s mooted Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of Information Bill that will be presented to President Jacob Zuma – and are inviting other South African writers to sign it.

To add your attestation, please read the letter in full (below), then send your name to: writers@mweb.co.za.

Nadine GordimerAndré Brink

Petition: SA Writers Against the Media Appeals Tribunal & Protection of Information Bill by Books LIVE

 
After a certain period, the names will be collated and the letter sent to the president. It’s not certain when the cutoff date is, however, so if you want to sign, send your name in early!

 

Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 19th, 2010 @11:33 #
     
  • clarebyrne
    clarebyrne
    August 19th, 2010 @17:55 #
     
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    Dear editor,
    Can you list some of those authors who have already signed the petition? I'm a journalist with german media and want to write a few lines about Gordimer's and Brink's letter.
    Thanks.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 19th, 2010 @18:20 #
     
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    Have sent you a note, Clare.

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  • <a href="http://fionasnyckers.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Fiona</a>
    Fiona
    August 20th, 2010 @12:01 #
     
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    Signed. Nice to see more and more foreign media taking an interest in this. From what Kevin Bloom was saying at the Homing launch last night, they are the only people the ANC is likely to listen to.

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    August 20th, 2010 @20:08 #
     
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    Sigh. I do hope I’m right in assuming (hoping) that everyone with an opinion is very well aware that there is in existence, a Protection of Information Act that we’ve all been living with very safely and free-speechly since from way back in the apartheid years. Same Act, unchanged, for more than a quarter century now.

    And that people writing to form/inform public opinion have checked carefully thru all 28 pages of the Protection of Information Bill so as to be clear about just which differences between the Bill and the Act it is intended to replace, are problematic (or an improvement, or exactly the same). Replace - not be appended to - the old Act will be repealed if/when the Bill becomes law and, in effect, become the new Act.

    And that they’ve read, if not studied, all 20 pages of the ANC’s media discussion document which is the basis of the very separate proposal for a Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT is a nice acronym but is does fludge the rather crucial, imo, Appeals - against incompetent/inaccurate etc journalism - aspect) so as to inform, accurately, their readers.

    The thought of everyone with a pen writing writing writing with no reference to the source information, just with hearsay repeated hearsay repeated is just too *insert your own hyperbole* to contemplate. I should probably go read those source docs for myself while I wait to hear which writers have.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 20th, 2010 @22:44 #
     
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    Elinor Sisulu, in signing this petition, made this comment (she has given permission for me to post it here) in which (IMHO) she gets right to the nub of the problem:

    "Thank you for this petition which I support wholeheartedly. The last thing this country needs is a protection of Information Bill. Freedom of expression has been what distinguishes South Africa from undemocratic African regimes. Let us protect it passionately. Various kinds of protection of information bills have proliferated across this continent and nowhere have they benefited the people. On the contrary they have been instrumental in camouflaging corruption and state violence against ordinary citizens. The petition is correct in stating that this is not a matter of the state against the media or the writing community, but the state against the most marginalised and materially deprived in our society.

    There is no government worldwide – left, right, centre, secular, religious, democratic or undemocratic – that has worked out a way of addressing poverty on a global or national level. If socialism has failed, capitalism has not succeeded either. Humanity needs another paradigm. We cannot search for that paradigm without a VOICE. African governments have failed spectacularly in their much-stated mission of delivering their people from poverty, but one thing they can give their people is VOICE. Let us not allow our voices to be stifled by apartheid-style legislation."

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  • <a href="http://www.darlingtonrichards.com/" rel="nofollow">moi</a>
    moi
    August 21st, 2010 @13:22 #
     
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    thanks for this, Helen!

    Setting the proposal of Media Appeals Tribunal for the time being, and by way of preamble, just so I know I'm on the same page as everyone else, a Bill (like, with respect, a petition) is a harmless nothing that, in itself, can't actually do anything to anyone. Which is not to say that Bills and petitions don't/can't accrue a whole lot of 'power/implications/stuff' (for want of a better word right now) to themselves. But a Bill can't hurt us until it has been placed before parliament, debated, modified, ratified in terms of the constitution and promulated and transformed into an Act. So...

    @ Ms Sisulu via Helen and
    @ anyone else who knows why it is important this petition be signed.

    1. Are petitioners (since no reference or objection is made to it) accepting of the retention of the existing Protection of Information Act 84 of 1982?

    2. If not, why does the petition not also demand its repeal?

    3. Why, since democracy, has its repeal not been petitioned along with so many other aprtheid-era laws?

    4. Does that mean the apartheid-era Protection of Information Act that we've been living with for almost 30 years the best thing for our now democratic South Africa?

    5. Are petitioners petitioning against the proposal of having a new Protection of Information Act 2010 (that will be placed before a democratically elected parliament, debated, modified, ratified in terms of the finest Constitution in the world) in place of that old one promulated by the apartheid regime?

    6. Are petitioners saying the best thing for South Africa is to have no Protection of Information Act at all? That the 2010 Bill is best shelved and the current Act repealed? The petition does not make that clear.

    7. What are the implications (pro and con) of no Protection of Information Act at all? To writers, to citizens, organised crime, hostile governments… ?

    I dunno, I haven’t read all this stuff yet but I'd love to hear from the petitioners who have.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 22nd, 2010 @08:15 #
     
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    I spoke to a constitutional lawyer this weekend, who said that SA's constitution largely supersedes the 1982 Act (along with a lot of other legal baggage from the bad old days), so that, although the Act's still on the books, the constitution protects those who cross the boundaries it sets, creating a free-speech regime which is markedly different from the one the Act would have us live under.

    The same person, incidentally, said that the PIB in its current form wouldn't pass constitutional muster; he was of the opinion that, because of this, the constitution itself, and the judges who are tasked with upholding it, will be next in the ANC's firing line.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    August 22nd, 2010 @12:58 #
     
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    Aargh! Just wrote an essay which suffered comment death. Trying again... in brief and 2nd-hand via the public interest lawyer I've been listening to for 25 years as well as having edited truckloads of Green and White papers: much, if not the majority, of SA's legislation written and promulgated under apartheid (postal services, water quality, etc) remains unchanged. Most of the notorious legislation that underpinned apartheid (Population Registration Act etc) was simply scrapped, rather than overhauled.

    As Ben's lawyer points out, the Constitution of 1996 trumps what remains, providing a quick and handy shortcut past the incredibly laborious process of changing existing legislation. Hoary old laws do continually crop up (off the top of my head, there were homophobic efforts to criminalise male homosexuality under doddering old anti-sodomy laws in the late 90s, and well into this century women married under traditional law were still being legally disinherited and chucked out of their homes along with their kids upon the death of their spouses while male relatives grabbed the goodies -- both egs of laws that were eventually shot down through Constitutional challenge).

    The massive time and effort involved in actually changing laws as opposed to relying on the Constitution was first impressed on me during my involvement when our abortion laws were overhauled -- Amanda Gouws has researched and written on the appallingly convoluted processes involved when trying to overhaul legislation that affects women -- it's in Feminist Africa, so you can google it).

    This means that when a functional act subordinate to the Constitution is earmarked and reworked as a new Bill to go through Parliament, my ears prick up -- it means that for whatever reason, the govt isn't happy with the status quo, and is prepared to invest enormous time and effort trying to change it. In the case of the change to abortion legislation, for instance, it was clear the govt were acting for the public good. In this case, however, it is equally clear that they are acting out of self-interest.

    Next point: the horrors we remember re silencing of the press under apartheid were not always or even mostly the results of the official 1982 legislation on the books, but the powers granted the state under various Emergency Acts. This is the bit that makes my toes curl in utter horror: the PIB (along with other efforts) seeks to embed within the new legislation the kinds of powers re the media the apartheid govt had ONLY under Emergency regulations, therefore literally legitimising the potential for the kinds of crackdown we last saw in the 80s. The massive govt effort and dedication we're seeing poured into an anti-media campaign (while our schools stand idle and hospitals become hellpits) is, as Ben's friend suspects, an effort to steamroller the Concourt.

    I am very, very, very worried. As Elinor has said to me, can you imagine if we had press restrictions in place during the reign of Mr Aids-Is-A-Plot and Dr Do-nothing? Books like Sindiwe Magona's Beauty's Gift and Kgebetli Moele's The Book of the Dead might even have been banned. The media can't claim victory re the govt turnaround on ARV-roll-out, but for year upon year, the media gave a platform, a voice, a presence to the hundreds and thousands of folk that spoke sense and truth and demanded action on HIV-AIDS. The TAC relied heavily on the media to promulgate alternative and scientifically reliable views of HIV-AIDS. This is just one example of how the new Bill could in theory cost lives.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 23rd, 2010 @10:42 #
     
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    Breyten Breytenbach has called for the petition started by Gordimer and Brink to be translated into other SA languages:

    "Ek voel ook sterk dat die petisie oor taal- en groepsgrense moet beweeg en sover moontlik in al die landstale bekend gemaak moet word. (Dieselfde teks natuurlik!) Hier is nou 'n gulde geleentheid om solidariteit gebaseer op gedeelde sienings en belange 'n bietjie aan te wakker. Die 'nasionale' karakter is trouens die een wat buitelandse waarnemers se aandag sal trek. Indien Nadine en APB-hulle intussen wil laat waai met 'n soortgelyke aksie - op voorwaarde dat die lyn teen tongverdowing onverbiddelik getrek word - kan dit nie kwaad doen nie."

    If anyone with translation expertise in isiZulu, isiXhosa, sePedi, seSotho or seTwsana can lend a hand, send your details to:

    writers _AT_ mweb _DOT_ co _DOT_ za

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    August 23rd, 2010 @12:44 #
     
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    Not to cast asparagus on literary giants, but that statement could do with an edit...

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  • L.M.Brickwood
    L.M.Brickwood
    August 24th, 2010 @20:48 #
     
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    One of the arguments in favour of MAT seems to be the protectionof the public. Protecting the public from what, from the truth? The truth, of course, hurts those who have something to hide from the public eye.
    A free society wants to know the truth. It's unpleasant to listen to and read about yet another scandal. But it's necessary and we all hope that it will get better with time. That there will be less and less unpleasant issues to report on. That those in power will eventually learn that they are part of a society with great democratic potential and that they should behave in an exemplary manner.
    The public wants to be lead by heroes with integrity not selfish egotists. The public wants to look up to its leaders. Not at the expense of the truth, but because of the truth.
    The problem does not lie with the media. It lies with those who would like to abuse their power undisturbed behind closed doors, not to the benefit of the public but their own. It stares us in the face every single day. Hard to deny.
    We are a fledgling democracy. How does obvious censorship help the growth of a democratic society? It doesn't, but the debate around it helps us exercise our democratic muscle. This debate is long overdue.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    August 26th, 2010 @13:13 #
     
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    UPDATE : The deadline for signing the petition is 31 August 2010.

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  • <a href="http://karinamagdalenaszczurek.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Karina</a>
    Karina
    September 2nd, 2010 @16:59 #
     
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    Nadine Gordimer and André Brink will speak about the petition on Talk Radio 702 at 10 tonight.

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  • <a href="http://margieorford.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Margie</a>
    Margie
    September 2nd, 2010 @17:12 #
     
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    South AFrican PEN will also be a good link up for this petition. I will be in Tokyo in September at the International PEN Conference and will table this issue there. And this petition will add weight indeed.

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