The Right To Know campaign is taking its fight to the courts, demanding that the SA Police Services release its list of National Key Points. It is arguing that making public the list of Key Points is a crucial step in challenging the creep of unjustified national security secrecy in SA.
Protesters gathered outside the High Court in Johannesburg on Monday ahead of an application for a list of South Africa's national key points to be made public, according to SAPA.
The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) and the South African History Archive (SAHA) want the list to be made public in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
Around 40 people gathered outside the court on Pritchard Street, singing songs, blowing whistles and dancing.
A police car was parked nearby to keep an eye on the crowd.
The protesters, some wearing black R2K shirts, drew a small crowd of people walking past as they sang in front of the court's main entrance.
On Sunday, R2K spokesman Murray Hunter said a request was made to the South African Police Service for the list of key points in 2012, but it was refused.
“An internal appeal to the minister of police upheld that refusal; in addition to broad security concerns, the minister cited the need to consider the privacy of private companies protected by the act.”
Civic organisations had complained that the secrecy surrounding national key points had been “used to undermine” the right to know and to protest in public spaces.
“We believe this basic transparency is an important step in countering the uncontrolled secrecy and potential abuse of South Africa's 'national security' policies,” Hunter said at the time.
Statement from Right To Know (RTK):
The Right2Know Campaign and the South African History Archive (SAHA) will ask the court to set aside the refusal by the South African Police Service (SAPS) to release a list of National Key Points in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). We believe this basic transparency is an important step in countering the uncontrolled secrecy and potential abuse of South Africa’s ‘national security’ policies.
In October 2012 SAHA, at the request of the Right2Know Campaign, made a request to SAPS for a list of sites protected by the apartheid-era National Key Points Act (the Act). SAPS refused to release the information, citing national security concerns. An internal appeal to the Minister of Police upheld that refusal; in addition to broad security concerns, the Minister cited the need to consider the privacy of private companies who are protected by the Act. We will ask the court to set aside this refusal and order a release of the information.
Our call for a public list of National Key Points came after years of complaints from civic organisations that this security law has been used to undermine both the right to protest in public spaces, and the public’s right to know. The Act has been infamously invoked to justify the controversial R230-million upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s personal home in Nkandla, and to hamper efforts to bring the scandal to light. Less widely reported has been the extent to which the Act has recently been invoked to shield certain institutions from protest and criticism, often far beyond the actual powers of the law (see timeline below).
We maintain that the blanket secrecy over which sites have been declared National Key Points has helped officials and politicians to use and abuse the Act to undermine our constitutional rights. The secret implementation of the Act, in which decisions are taken behind closed doors in terms of vague and open-ended regulations, has contributed to a worrying resurgence of secrecy. Though the list of National Key Points remains a secret, the number of sitesappears to have increased by nearly 70% in the past seven years.
We further maintain that it is possible to disclose the list of National Key Points without harming national security. In fact, PAIA compels public bodies to consider whether, in trying to strike the balance between openness and the need to protect legitimate national security concerns, records can be partially severed. PAIA also contains an all-important public interest override that requires public bodies to disclose records, even if there may be legitimate reasons to refuse access, if the records contain information that the South African public clearly has the right to know. It is the failure by SAPS to consider either of these key transparency checks contained within PAIA that is at the centre of this court challenge, as greater openness about the implementation of security laws is the only way to guard against their abuse and irrational application.
In May 2013 the Ministry of Police announced a ‘review’ of the National Key Points Act but so far no amendment Bill has been introduced to Parliament. Importantly, SAPS has made it clear that they do not intend to table a public list of National Key Points and Strategic Installations as part of a Parliamentary amendment Bill, meaning Parliament should produce a law with no public list of the institutions and places which would be affected by the law.
We believe that a public list of National Key Points is a small but vital step in challenging the creep of unjustified ‘national-security’ secrecy in our politics and public life.
Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr attorneys are acting for SAHA and the Right2Know Campaign, through their Pro Bono and Human Rights Department.