This article below was published by iol:
November 5 2014 at 11:12am
By Marianne Merten
Cape Town – Public access to the archives of Nelson Mandela’s private papers may have to be closed once the Protection of Personal Information Act was fully implemented, cautioned Verne Harris, director of the research archives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, on Tuesday.
This was because although Mandela had authorised the foundation to make all his private papers available to the public, whenever another person is involved, that person’s consent must be obtained before public access can be granted under the law passed in Parliament last year.
Speaking at the Open Democracy colloquium organised by the foundation and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Harris said while the legislation, complex as it was, was not necessarily a challenge, “it could well be implemented in a way that is problematic… that might require us to close down things that are now open”.
Other archives, like records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and oral history records, might also be affected.
Tuesday’s colloquium focused on the impact of laws like the personal information protection legislation, the whistleblower’s law, or the 2000 Protected Disclosures Act, and the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) 20 years after the democracy task team of the Mandela administration.
While the recent focus on information rights and freedom of expression has fallen on the Protection of State Information Bill, dubbed the Secrecy Bill, it was described as a symptom of the creep towards secrecy and against public access to information.
“(The bill) is not the sickness, but a symptom… A symptom of a trend, where those in charge of society are mistreading into our public democratic space. There’s an increasing securocratisation of the state,” argued Right2Know (R2K) campaign national co-ordinator Murray Hunter.
Other information right lobby groups such as Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac) shared this view. However, Odac executive chairman Mukelani Dimba pointed out that Zuma recently became chair of the Open Government Initiative.
“Transparency can create meaningful change in their (people’s) lives,” Dimba said, citing as an example how residents in Ntambanana, a KwaZulu-Natal rural village, obtained water services after 15 dry years following a Paia request.
R2K campaign community organiser Khaya Xintolo talked of successful Paia requests for information on land and housing waiting lists, but pointed out that councillors often failed to fully share information of local council financial allocations for development in wards.
Harris recounted how, in 2000, Mandela lodged a Paia request with the Justice Department for all documents relevant to him. A year later justice officials responded to say there were none. However, the foundation was leaked a memo outlining officials’ discussions on how to handle the Paia request and that there were such documents.
The impact of a Western Cape High Court ruling which effectively limited access to court documents is yet to fully unravel.
The matter stemmed from a case between the City of Cape Town and the South African National Roads Agency Ltd over proposals to toll in the Western Cape. Leave to appeal the judgment is expected to be filed with the Supreme Court of Appeal.