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Information Bill: Changes welcome, more needed

Date Released: Fri, 15 July 2011 13:10 +0200

Rhodes University welcomes the concessions made by the African National Congress (ANC) on Friday 24 June in deliberations by an ad-hoc committee of Parliament on the Protection of Information Bill.

The University appreciates the committee’s commitment to move away from a culture of secrecy in the state and to prevent abuses of the Bill to cover up mal-governance and even corruption.

Academic freedom is constitutionally protected in South Africa, and this freedom would be impossible to achieve without freedom of information. This freedom is necessary for academics to generate knowledge, which in turn assists in the development of good public policy.

The University had serious concerns about the Bill, as it threatened to cloak the state in a shroud of secrecy, and could have made academic enquiry on many aspects of the state’s operations impossible. Such secrecy would have violated the right of universities to determine teaching and research priorities freely.

Universities have a duty to secure the necessary conditions for their own intellectual work in society; but they also have a broader duty to secure conditions for the practice of democratic citizenship in society generally.

South Africa has a sorry history of abuse of the state security apparatuses, and universities have a key role to play to ensure that such abuses are not repeated. Researchers need access to documents that expose the inner workings of the security cluster, and its interface with society. Otherwise, research that is of considerable public importance – such as research into the restructuring and ‘re-militarisation’ of the police and its relationship to growing police violence, and research into the transformation of the military – will be extremely difficult to undertake.

The University calls on the ad-hoc committee to address these remaining problems when it commences work later this month.

Issued on behalf of the Senate and Council of Rhodes University

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