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In the face of the imminent passing of the Protection of State Information Bill in parliament this afternoon, South Africans took to social networks to voice their frustration at the potential law, which opponents have promised will be the start of the end of a free media in South Africa.
The bill, commonly referred to as the “Secrecy Bill,” is sponsored by the ANC majority parliament and thus expected to easily be passed, the first step to it becoming law.
Should this happen, the leaking and publishing of classified information will be a criminal offence that may lead to a jail sentence of up to 20-years. What has angered opponents is that the bill in no way protects those who leak or publish classified information with the aim of uncovering wrongdoing or malfeasance.
With journalists and other media practitioners being so prominent and active on social media (Twitter in particular) it’s hardly surprising that the fight against the bill has largely happened, and been coordinated, via social media. On Twitter, four of the Top 10 trending topics in South Africa are related to the controversial bill.
One of the most popular moves, both on Facebook and Twitter, has been to change one’s avatar to a simple black image.
This is to signify support for the “Black Tuesday” protests occurring outside seats of power such as Luthuli House (the ANC’s Johannesburg headquarters), and Parliament in Cape Town. South Africans not able to attend the protests were also asked to wear black in support of the cause. The hashtag #BlackTuesday, has been the top trending topic in South Africa.
One of Memeburn’s 50+ most prominent journalists on Twitter, Simon Williamson, made a quick quip about this mass avatar change.
Eusebius McKaiser, one of South Africa’s foremost political analysts and a columnist for the New York Times’ website, also indulged in some grim humour from the upcoming vote when he parodied what could be described as a dream news report, on Facebook:
CAPE TOWN — In one of the most remarkable days in the short history of post-democratic SA’s parliament, ANC MPs left civil society critics, the media and opposition parties in a deep state of shock as they voted en masse against the Protection of Information Bill in the first back bench revolt since democracy’s birth here.
Recognising the likelihood of such an outcome occurring, however, he ended his status update with, “And in other news, ET is still with us…”.
Though jokes were seen here and there, overall, the mood of those participating in the discussions on this matter has been sombre on social networks.
One of the most popular status updates and tweets on Facebook and Twitter was in equal parts simple, effective, and chilling.
Acclaimed statesman and former South African and ANC president, Nelson Mandela, was on the minds of many.
Leading South African social media user, Khaya Dlanga, tweeted a quote from him.
Journalist Mazola Molefe also quoted Mandela, leaving the irony of it all to be seen by the reader.
Just as the bill was about to be debated, the office of the Nobel laureate issued a statement, described as “slamming” the bill.
Two of Memeburn’s other most prominent journalists on Twitter, Alex Parker and Gus Silber, however, perfectly captured the strange ennui and hope of the day.