Friday, 1 October 2010

Anglican Church Calls for "Vote of Conscience" on Protection of Information Bill

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa today resolved to urge members of the South African Parliament to 'vote with their consciences' on the Protection of Information Bill being considered by legislators. The church’s ruling Provincial Synod adopted a resolution declaring its opposition to the Bill after a number of speakers warned the church against what they saw as its failure to speak out sufficiently on public issues.

The priest who proposed the resolution, the Revd Drake Tshenkeng of the Diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman, said in an interview after the synod debate that he hoped members of Parliament would vote their consciences 'instead of along party lines'.

Speaking during debate, Bishop Oswald Swartz of Kimberley and Kuruman said that 'one of the marks of the church is to challenge unjust structures of society'.

Warning of 'the great danger we are in if we keep silent', he asked: 'Is this inability to speak because we are uncomfortable [with], or even afraid of, our comrades who shared the trenches with us [in the struggle against apartheid] – also because many of the people now in authority are also Anglicans?'

Father Tshenkeng – who was detained, then banned and forced into exile after the killing of Steve Biko in 1977 – told the synod the church had been in 'the forefront of public advocacy' during the apartheid era.

After liberation in 1994, he said, 'there was joy, there was happiness, there was rejoicing... It was a new era and of course the church also changed gears... We were still enjoying a honeymoon... But... our honeymoon seems not to get to an end. It is a honeymoon that seems to be going on and on… The church is being slowly embedded within the status quo.'

The full text of the Synod resolution read:

PROTECTION OF INFORMATION BILL (2010)

The Revd D Tshenkeng, seconded by The Bishop of Kimberley & Kuruman, moved:

THAT THIS SYNOD,

NOTING

1. That a Bill under this title is before the South African Parliament for debate, which seeks

a. to provide for the protection of certain information from destruction, loss, or unlawful disclosure;

b. to regulate the manner in which information may be protected;

c. to repeal the Protection of Information Act of 1982;

2. That such a Bill, if passed, would be open to misuse and abuse; and

3. That it threatens not only media freedom but also academic research and free access to information by the general public as guaranteed by Section 32 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa;

THEREFORE RESOLVES

1. Respectfully to ask the office of the Metropolitan [Archbishop Thabo Makgoba] to register our objection to the Bill as it stands with the relevant authority; and

2. To call on all members of Parliament to exercise a vote of conscience when called upon.

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