SOUTH AFRICA: Anti-terrorism bill to 'terrorise' left

Issue 

BY DALE McKINLEY

JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress (ANC) government has just introduced an "anti-terrorism bill" in South Africa's parliament. If it is passed, it will in effect define the growing struggles of workers and the poor against the neoliberal policies of the ANC government into "terrorist" acts. The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and other progressive social movements in South Africa could soon become prohibited "terrorist" organisations, and all their members "terrorists".

The bill is modelled on similar legislation that has been passed in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia. As part of its "anti-terrorism" campaign, the USA has put political and economic pressure on many countries to undermine freedom of expression and ban anti-imperialist organisations and national liberation movements that threaten the "national interests" and capitalist profits of the US ruling class.

The real reason for this "anti-terrorism" drive is to deal with anti-capitalist popular movements and organisations. Already, the US government has included revolutionary national liberation organisations that oppose Pax Americana (such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia and the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey) in its list of "terrorist" organisations. The next "phase" involves including the anti-globalisation and emerging radical social movements that have grown tremendously across the world in the last several years.

The ANC government's anti-terrorism bill is set to do exactly that. The bill defines "terrorism" as "an unlawful act that is likely to intimidate the public or a segment of the public". Such a wide and vague definition could be used to ban a whole range of civil and political activities, such as demonstrations, pickets or civil disobedience campaigns, and the groups that organise them.

The bill also states that any activity that might result in the "disruption of essential public services" would be considered a "terrorist" act. It does not take a genius to figure out what this might mean for left activists and social movements such as the APF and the Landless People's Movement.

Under the bill, the ANC government can use its discretion to define "unlawful" dissent as terrorism. For example, activities carried out as part of the APF's Operation Khanyisa (the reconnection of electricity to residents who have had their power been cut off) could qualify as a "terrorist" act.

Reminiscent of the apartheid-era Anti-Communism Act, the bill outlaws simple membership of "terrorist organisations" — even claiming to be a member of such a group would be illegal. Journalists can be compelled to reveal their confidential sources and hand over their notes.

The anti-terrorism bill proposes extremely harsh bail conditions for suspected "terrorists" and empowers police to secure court orders to question individuals through "investigative hearings". South Africa's minister of safety and security (who is, at the moment, South African Communist Party chairperson Charles Nqakula) will be given powers to "blacklist" organisations which he alone suspects of committing "terrorist acts". Anyone convicted under the proposed provisions will face jail terms ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment.

The anti-terrorism bill will provide Pretoria with all the "legal" tools it needs to outlaw anti-government and anti-capitalist activity, as well as the movements and organisations that carry them out. By introducing such legislation, the ANC government is signalling that it is ready and willing to go much further in abrogating the freedoms and rights that the majority of South Africans fought so long and hard to win. It is telling us that it is willing to put the interests of imperialist and capitalist elites above those of the people who have given it the right to govern.

The APF, alongside the broader left in South Africa, will be fighting to make sure the anti-terrorism bill does not become a law. Already, a growing coalition of progressive forces (which includes the Freedom of Expression Institute, the Media Workers' Association and the Media Review Network and others) has gathered to oppose the bill and mobilise forces against it.

[Dale McKinley is information officer for the Anti-Privatisation Forum.]

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.

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