18 August 2020
All of us who enjoy the freedom of the internet and all social media are in for a nasty surprise if the draft regulations published by the Minister of Communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, aptly dubbed the 'Internet Censorship Act,' come into play. By allowing the government, specifically the Film and Publications Board (FPB), to be the final arbiter to determine what forms of expression are allowed or not online, the draft regulations pose a grave threat to the constitutional right to freedom of expression in general, freedom of the press in particular, but also to the right to privacy.
These freedoms are the cornerstones of a vibrant, functioning democracy. Yet, instead of strengthening these freedoms, government aims to centralise information in characteristic Orwellian surveillance state. Given the ease with which government removed hard won freedoms under the Disaster Management Act Covid-19 regulations, all citizens should be aware and vigilant. This is the latest in a series of alarming moves to curtail individual freedom.
These regulations are an attack on the hard-won democratic rights of all who live in South Africa, and outright, unscrupulous attack on democracy itself. FMF Head of Legal Policy, Martin van Staden, said, "The Constitution was adopted precisely to guard against this kind of authoritarian government action. As these draft regulations are being discussed, government is also threatening private property rights through the proposed section 25 amendment to the Constitution to realise expropriation without compensation and even the liberty to freely engage in sport and recreational activities – as embodied in the National Sport and Recreation Amendment Bill."
Government is also in the process of establishing a 'Transport Gestapo' through the Economic Regulation of Transport Bill. This trend away from constitutional freedom and the Rule of Law, toward authoritarianism, is of grave concern.
Government is making it clear to all South Africans that it has no regard for the Constitution and the Rule of Law, both of which enjoy equally supreme status in democratic South Africa in terms of section 1(c) of the Constitution.
This latest attack on freedom of expression, press freedom, and privacy, is a textbook example of a quasi-rogue state that is doing everything in its power to act outside the bounds of its constitutional mandate. It cannot be overemphasized that this course of action has severe consequences that are detrimental for civil liberties.