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FXI slams Key Points Bill

Publish date: 13 July 2007
Issue Number: 1867
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Legislation

The bane of editors and others of yesteryear, the notorious National Key Points Act of 1980, is being resurrected under a new title, but the same old defects, writes E-Brief News.

The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) has joined Cosatu in raising concern over the National Key Points and Strategic Installations Bill of 2007, which, like its predecessor, is designed to protect places and areas deemed to be of strategic national interest against sabotage or other forms of attack. The FXI is concerned that the anti-disclosure provisions in the Bill will prevent the media from doing its job by barring publication of any news relating to designated National Key Points whatsoever unless the publication is authorised by the Minister. It says: ‘This drastically curtails the right to report on political demonstrations, such as environmental and other protests that may occur in the vicinity of a National Key Point. This is particularly relevant in the current climate of vigorous debate between industries and communities living in the vicinity of factories. These communities are often embroiled in disputes over environmental issues and occupational hazards, often spilling over into protest and confrontation.’ National Key Points and Strategic Installations Bill (PDF file)

There are several examples in recent years of the state, or state-owned companies using the Act to crush labour protests or media investigation into state use of public funds, says the FXI in a press release. It says the 2006 attempt by the National Ports Authority to declare ports as national key points bore all the hallmarks of such secretive behaviour; also in 2006, the Department of Public Works invoked the Act to prevent information from being disseminated to the public about an alleged R90m wall around President Mbeki\'s official residence in the Bryntirion government estate in Pretoria. Many of the National Key Points in South Africa are also plants or companies at the centre of industrial action and general protest actions from time to time, such as in 2004 when members of the Transport and Allied Workers Union went on strike at the Johannesburg and Cape Town airports over a wage dispute. Attempts were made in 2004 to invoke the Act to prevent protest action during a pending strike at the SABC; and in 2002 the Ministry of Defence decided unilaterally to extend the area of the National Key Point around the Engen Refinery in Durban, resulting in encroachment upon people\'s houses and the local mosque. The effect of this was that community people attempting to take air samples on the fence line of the Engen Refinery could be convicted under the Act. FXI statement National Key Points and Strategic Installations Bill