So the list of National Key Points is now public.
This comes more than two years since R2K began campaigning against National Key Point secrecy. It is an outcome of work that started with the “Secrecy Bill” in 2010 and has expanded to a front of activism against all legislative, governmental and political attempts to institutionalise the practice of secrecy. We strive to bring together a wide range of organisations, activists and communities to challenge the way ‘secrecy’ affects an equally wide range of social, economic and political practices in South Africa today.
But now that the list is public, what next?
1. We need more information!
Without being pedantic, there are a number of strange discrepancies in the information provided: some sites which were officially said to be National Key Points are missing from the site. For example, six research facilities that the Department of Health disclosed as National Key Points in 2013, do not appear on the list issued by the Ministry of Police in January 2015. Were they ever on the list? Were they on the list at one point and then taken off? The sheer secrecy and irrationality that has characterised the National Key Points Act makes it hard to know for sure.
Already the South African History Archive (SAHA) has submitted a follow-up PAIA request that would show a year-by-year breakdown of when particular sites became National Key Points and if any of them have ever been un-declared.
Just as importantly, we must remember that National Key Points are just one category of these secret ‘security’ sites. There is a whole separate set of sites out there called Strategic Installations – about 250 of them. We believe these are mostly national and provincial government buildings, though this not confirmed. Read our factsheet on Strategic Installations.
At R2K’s behest, SAHA has also submitted a PAIA request to the police to tell us which sites have been declared Strategic Installations.
2. We need to use this information to identify and challenge abuses
The release of the list has finally (partially) lifted the veil of secrecy around the National Key Points Act. But now that it has, we need to use this information to identify abuses.
Already this is happening. For example, the publicly released list appears to confirm several instances where police and other officials have claimed certain sites are National Key Points, when they aren’t. This, as SAHA has written, “confirms suspicions that the NKP sceptre has been used repeatedly as a bullying tactic, to avoid scrutiny.”
For example, in November 2012 a group of Xstrata miners were arrested during a protest at the Rustenburg Magistrate’s Court. At the time, a Brigadier Thulani Ngubane told the media that the court was a National Key Point, and reportedly said that it is illegal to protest outside National Key Points.
Firstly, despite regular claims the contrary, it is not illegal to protest at National Key Points. But importantly, it seems that the Magistrate’s Court was never a National Key Point. It is not clear whether the police willingly lied or not, but it wouldn’t be the first time that an official used vague ‘security’ powers to wall off an institution from the public.
But this glimpse into the heart of the National Key Points policy is not only about knowing where the local NKP is. (Though you can now find most of them on this map.)
The public must start asking hard questions: Are we comfortable with so many private-sector institutions being given national-security powers? Do we think security at the SABC studios should be governed by the same regulations that govern Pelindaba nuclear facility? Are we interested in asking who’s paying for the security upgrades at these different sites? Are we interested in who’s getting the contracts? (In the 1980s, the Act was said to be a big shot in the arm for the private security industry.)
3. We should campaign for the National Key Points Act to be scrapped
R2K believes that there is no place for National Key Points in our democracy. If there are true security prerogatives (matters of protecting the life and limb of the people of South Africa, rather than protecting the self interest of institutions or elites) these should be regulated by a law that has openness and democratic participation at its heart.
What would that law look like? The Democratic Alliance has proposed its own Bill, which contains some interesting proposals, but with there are a few immediate warning sign from its most recently available draft: the DA’s Bill actually increases the penalties that we see in the NKPA. A prison sentence of 3 years in the 1980 Act becomes 25 years in the 2013 DA Bill. A penalty fine of R10,000 in the 1980 Act becomes a R1,000,000 fine. The Bill also carries over the loophole-ridden concept of Espionage as contained in the Protection of State Information Bill, which is open-ended enough to criminalise whistleblowers and journalists.
In short, despite containing greater checks and balances than the 1980 Act, the DA Bill carries the worrying feel of a securocratic law.
In her recent book The Rise of the Securocrats: The Case of South Africa, Professor Jane Duncan goes a step further, arguing that attempts to ‘reform’ security practices through balance are missing the point. The very concept of security, she argues, is an invitation for abuse in the interests of whoever is most powerful in a society. In that paradigm, where security is really about maintaining status quo against the interests of those who are not beneficiaries of the status quo, there are no ‘rational’ security laws, only less bad ones. “Too much time has been spent on reform efforts,” she writes, “and not enough time thinking about the fundamental roles of the security cluster in society and the ultimate impossibility of an impartial cluster.”
There will never be a greater opportunity to have this debate. Though it has only introduced a small measure of transparency, the release of the National Key Points list allows for the first time an informed public discussion about the appropriateness of the National Key Points Act in particular, and ‘security’ policies in general. This is just as well, as last year’s promised ‘review’ of the National Key Points Act is due to come to Parliament this year. When former Police Mininster Nathi Mthethwa made the announcement, his comments suggested it would be a reboot of the 2007 draft Bill, which would be a disaster.
If we want something better – if we want an end to securocratic abuses – we need to start the work yesterday!
R2K is a broad front of organisations and individuals united in the belief that a more just society will flow from less secrecy and better access to information for all. This reflection is written by Murray Hunter, a member of R2K’s secrecy focus group, in his personal capacity.