Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Roman Catholic Cardinal Wilfrid Napier are among hundreds of high-profile South Africans calling on their compatriots to oppose a proposed media law that critics say resembles apartheid legislation.
In an unscripted speech on Aug. 18 at the Institute for Democracy in Cape Town, Tutu, who is due to retire from public life in October, challenged South Africans to fight for press freedom by mobilizing the spirit that made the 2010 soccer World Cup a success.
Referring to the FIFA soccer competition, that South Africa hosted, and which ended in July, Tutu said, "We are on a high, or we were on a high. We were, all of us, on the same page."
He continued, "Why don't we get on to the same page about the media? I am just saying it must be odd to think that people who were together, moving in the same direction, could suddenly find that we are at odds with one another, that you bring something that virtually everybody rejects."
Tutu challenged opponents of the new media control proposals that the ruling African National Congress has put forward, to fight back. He said, "This is your country, and it is going to become what you allow it to be."
The Catholic Archbishop of Durban Cardinal Napier, who like Tutu was a noted foe of apartheid, has also spoken out against the ANC's proposed Protection of Information Bill and a state media tribunal.
"It is hard to imagine how any person, group or organization, which only a few years ago was protesting so vigorously for the exposing of all injustice, all corruption, all favoritism and nepotism, could in such a short time be calling for legislation designed to prevent the reporting of these very ills," said Napier on Aug. 19.
The archbishop was among hundreds of readers, academics and activists who sent e-mails, faxes and text messages to The Mercury, in support of the Durban daily newspaper's "No" campaign to the proposed media changes.
"It must be either an extremely short memory or a very guilty conscience that could drive one who had suffered under the old regime to change so quickly from opposing to supporting that undemocratic conduct," said Napier, who also heads the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops' Conference.
In an appeal to South African President Jacob Zuma, Napier said, "Please do not allow our country to be brought into disrepute so soon after the wonderful picture of unity and solidarity that South Africa presented to the world during the World Cup."
South Africa's African Christian Democratic Party said the proposed law would have a negative impact on access to information. Steve Swart, ACDP lawmaker and spokesperson on justice matters, told ENInews on Aug. 20 that the bill goes against the constitution, and will severely curtail the right to freedom of information.
"There might be valid complaints against the media but our view is, 'Let us point out the weakness with the current ombudsman system, and strengthen it,'" Swart said.