The acting Minister of Police, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, has upheld the SAPS decision to refuse to release a list of National Key Points. This comes months after SAPS original refused to release the information, after R2K launched a request using the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). When the police refused our request, we appealed to the Minister to reconsider – and after initially missing the legal deadline to respond to our appeal (see R2K’s previous statement) the acting Minister has refused.
According to the letter received from the Ministry of Police*, the refusal is based on two arguments:
1) The Ministry argues that it “will impact negatively on and jeopardize the operational strategy and tactics used to ensure security at the relevant property or safety of an individual” if such information were public; in other words, if the public knew which buildings were National Key Points it would be more difficult to keep these buildings secure.
This ignores the fact that R2K’s request had nothing to do with specific security measures at National Key Points – indeed, we offered SAPS the opportunity to release the information with redactions where full disclosure would have carried real security risks. More importantly, this faulty logic overlooks the bigger problem: it is the very secrecy surrounding alleged ‘National Key Points’ that makes it impossible for the public to know where this law is being applied, and therefore where our rights are being limited – specifically, the rights to access to information, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.
2) The Ministry argues that it would violate the privacy of “third parties” (i.e. private sector companies) if these companies were exposed as being protected under the National Key Points Act. “It must be noted that there is 200 places or areas which have been declared as National Key Points. The majority of these places or areas is not government owned and therefore there are personal information… of numerous third parties involved in the request. [sic]”
While it is alarming to consider that the majority of bodies protected under this draconian law may belong to the private sector, this argument is equally faulty. Just because these are private companies does not mean all information relating to them should be private; indeed, where such information may be crucial to exercising our basic rights, it is in the public interest that it be known. One could argue that the extraordinary powers conferred by the National Key Points Act – which have been used and abused to block access to information and prevent public gatherings – makes it even more important that the public scrutinises which private bodies enjoy this protection. We have seen, for example, how private-sector players in the petrochemical industry have attempted to use the National Key Points Act to prevent the communities of South Durban from gathering information on their environmental impact.
The question now remains how the Right2Know Campaign will respond to this blatant refusal to protect the Constitutional right to know. In terms of PAIA, the Right2Know Campaign has 180 days in which to approach a court in response to this decision. There have also been calls for a series of pickets outside suspected National Key Points to highlight the senselessness of keeping the list of National Key Points secret. This will be a central part of discussions at the Right2Know National Summit, taking place in Durban from Friday 15 March to Sunday 17 March.
What is certain is that a secret law is by definition an unjust law; a law that violates your right to know which laws govern you, and which freedoms are yours to enjoy. It is not a law which is envisioned by our Constitution, and not one that will be stomached by the people of South Africa!
*Download the Ministry of Police letter here. Note that it is addressed to the South African History Archive (SAHA), a member organisation of the Right2Know Campaign that administered this PAIA request at our request.
For further comment, please contact:
R2K National Spokesperson: Murray Hunter (072 672 5468)
R2K Gauteng spokesperson: Dale McKinley (072 429 4086)
R2K KZN spokesperson: Desmond D’Sa (083 982 6939)
R2K W. Cape spokesperson: Nkwame Cedile (060 478 7563)
R2K E. Cape spokesperson: Thembani Zion Onceya (078 843 7489)
For other queries contact R2K National Coordinator Mark Weinberg (084 993 0591)