The Guardian July 2, 2003


South Africa: COSATU rejects Terror Bill

In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, governments around the 
world rushed to pass "Terrorism" legislation through their parliaments. 
Without exception these laws have greatly impinged upon hard-won democratic 
rights and processes. Such legislation has now been introduced by the ANC 
Government into the South African Parliament. The Council of South African 
Trade Unions (COSATU)  which operates in electoral alliance with the ANC 
 strongly opposes this "terror" Bill. COSATU issued the following 
statement on the Bill:

Significantly, it was exactly 48 years ago, on 26 June 1955, that people 
from all corners of our country came to Kliptown to sign the Freedom 
Charter. It became the textbook for the liberation struggle in which 
millions fought and thousands sacrificed their lives.

The Freedom Charter is particularly strong on human rights, 
declaring: "All shall be equal before the law" and "All shall enjoy Human 
Rights!" It was drafted when the vicious apartheid state machinery was 
being strengthened and consolidated, with laws to allow arbitrary arrest, 
imprisonment without trial, torture and even murder to silence its 
opponents.

The democratic movement was clear that there must be no such abuse of human 
rights in the liberated South Africa.

The Freedom Charter demanded that no-one should be imprisoned, 
deported or restricted without a fair trial, or condemned by the order of 
any Government official. It declared that the law shall guarantee to all 
their right to speak, organise, meet together, publish, preach, worship and 
educate their children, and that the privacy of the house from police raids 
shall be protected by law.

Many of these rights are now enshrined in our Constitution, which 
overturned the repressive structures set up under apartheid.

In contrast, the draft Anti-Terrorism Bill conflicts with virtually every 
demand in the Freedom Charter's section on democratic rights.

We acknowledge the responsibility and obligation of the Government to give 
effect to the relevant United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement and African 
Union's conventions, protocols and resolutions relating to terrorism. The 
citizens of South Africa have a right to safety and rightly expect the 
government to protect them from acts of terrorism. We have good grounds for 
fearing terrorism, as was underscored most recently by the right-wing 
bombings in Soweto.

In its current form, however, the Anti-Terrorism Bill is likely to erode 
the human rights established in the Freedom Charter and our Constitution, 
without adequately targeting the perpetrators of violent acts.

Even the word "terrorism" is highly subjective, emotive and contested. 
Vervoerd, Vorster and Botha [South Africa's apartheid-era Prime Ministers] 
all used the threat of "terrorism" to justify their most brutal and 
repressive laws. Bush and Blair also use the "terrorist threat" to justify 
their invasion of Iraq. Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, 
routinely refers to the leader of PLO, Yasser Arafat, and the struggles of 
the Palestinians people as "terrorist".

If enacted in its current form the Bill is likely to make serious inroads 
into Constitutional rights and freedoms. The broad definition of what 
constitutes a "terrorist act" poses a serious threat to our hard won 
democracy, allowing for legitimate mass action by workers or other social 
movements at some time in the future to be demonised and categorised as 
"terrorist".

For example the Bill defines any activity that might result in the 
"disruption of essential public services" as a "terrorist" act. For unions 
in the public sector, this is a worryingly vague clause. Would the 
threatened wildcat strike in Johannesburg's emergency services be classed 
as "terrorism"?

Accordingly, COSATU is bound to reject the Bill as currently drafted. To 
maintain the democratic gains of the past nine years, it must be 
fundamentally amended or withdrawn and a new bill presented that would not 
flout the provisions of the Freedom Charter.

Prior to the enactment of new security legislation, a comprehensive review 
of existing security legislation should be conducted to assess compliance 
with the Constitution, the adequacy of existing legislation to deal with 
legitimate concerns about threats posed to public safety and the extent to 
which reform is required.

Taking into account the wide ranging human rights implications and 
political significance of the Bill, we believe that such a review should be 
conducted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and should 
involve a Parliamentary Committee specially set up for that purpose.

Accordingly, we are calling for the withdrawal of the Bill and the 
suspension of the current Parliamentary process pending the outcome of the 
proposed review.

* * *
http://www.cosatu.org.za

Back to index page