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Don’t post that! The Film and Publications Board does not approve

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Films and Publications Amendment Act into law in February 2022.  This new law will eviscerate free speech and directly intrude into the lives of all South Africans.  Yet, a full two weeks AFTER it became the law of the land, the Film and Publications Board (FPB) has not even developed standards or procedures for adherence to the new act.  This juvenile, Mickey Mouse, Banana Republic sort of governance would be amusing, if only it were news appearing in the Onion or the Babylon Bee.  According to South Africa’s Business Tech, “the FPB is now developing new guidelines about what can be shared on social media platforms.”  Who makes up laws and then later decides on what constitutes a violation of such law?  The answer is of course that totalitarian fascists do that.  At least Nancy Pelosi only expected lawmakers to “read” what they were approving after the fact.

This has long been a dream for the FPB.  Seven years ago, these clowns sought to regulate free speech in this very same way.  In 2015 the FBP retreated and agreed to “defer the regulation of online press content to the Press Council of South Africa.”  Traditional media were granted an exemption and permitted to self-regulate.  But that agreement did not apply to “non-press content” (i.e., your Tik Tok and YouTube content).  Since 2015 the FBP has continued to hear submissions on how to suppress your online voice.  Now the ANC has legally empowered them to do so.

The state can legally intrude into your family photo albums, braai videos, vacation movies and anything else they chose to with a draconian, liberty suppressing censorship law dressed up as a means to improve online content.  While South Africans suffer the daily indignities of horrific violent crime, rotting food in the fridge and destroyed electronics owing to a corrupt, inept collapsing parastatal that habitually loses nearly 40 percent of its installed power generating capacity, a justice system that convicts virtually no genuine criminals, a government busy pilfering state resources (i.e. your hard earned money) and countless other daily miseries, the ruling ANC sees its most important task as silencing political opponents and adding methods to squash free speech.  South Africa, under the ANC, has become a failed state.

This new law significantly expands the FPB’s mandate.  Now it is no longer simply a body to apply ratings to film and television content (in essence a classification authority).  Under this law the FPB is also a fully-fledged regulator with the authority to issue and renew licenses, accredit distributors (you!), and impose fines for non-compliance.  The ANC has created yet another patronage parking spot for connected cadres, a means to silence political opponents and make money at the same time, all while robbing you of your freedoms and intruding into your personal lives and livelihoods.

The Films and Publications Amendment Act does the following:

  • Gives the FPB power to regulate almost all online content published in South Africa
  • Requires ALL online distributors to register with and submit ALL content to the FPB for classification
  • Criminalizes any person who knowingly distributes ‘hate speech’ in any medium which amounts to propaganda for war, incites imminent violence, or advocates hate speech, shall be guilty of an offence

Each of the provisions above are an egregious and unnecessary intrusion into South Africans’ lives.  Only one provision in the bill made any sense, specifically; “no person may expose, through any medium, including the internet and social media, a private sexual photograph (revenge pornography).”  It also begs the question, will the Economic Freedom Fighters twitter account be charged for inciting violence, hate speech or a race war?  Most reasonable, cogent folks are likely to conclude it should.

The ANC can blame Jan Van Riebeeck, “colonialism” and Apartheid all they want, but South Africa’s woes now fall squarely on the shoulders of a political party that long ago betrayed the “liberation movement” for personal gain, self-aggrandizement, blue light escorts, adulation, and ego.  The image of a callous, thoroughly disconnected, and arrogant Cyril Ramaphosa arriving in Kwa-Zulu Natal in mid-July 2021 in a behemoth luxury BMW motorcade, dressed in a (Western) business suit that costs more than most South Africans earn in five years, to inspect the carnage wrought by an internal insurrection within his own political party, is priceless.  It is also far from a rare example of the hypocrisy of the ruling ANC and its armed and militant junior partner, the EFF.  Of course, the adoring, sycophants clapping like trained seals at his arrival and when he shoveled the remains of someone’s life’s work (a destroyed business) into a wheelie bin only completes the story.

The law serves only one true purpose.  Much like the Expropriation without Compensation Amendment, bill this is intended to silence or cow political opposition to the government of the day (in this case, the ANC).  The threat of a government legally confiscating the personal property of a political opponent or anyone who dares speak ill of the ANC is a frightening prospect, as is the application of this hideous FPB Act to shut down critics.

While we may be angry, one should note that it is also unenforceable.  The FPB cannot review the tens of thousands of Instagram, Facebook, twitter or YouTube videos which South Africans post online every day.  Consequently, the law serves a purpose in deterring you from using online sites or by turning you into as “criminal” should you have the temerity to do so anyway.  And the government will use this law in a capricious manner to go after opponents while ignoring its own transgressions.  South African press have also confirmed (in mid-March 2022) that “regulator (the FPB) is now developing new guidelines about what can be shared on social media platforms.”  ANC cadres are deciding what you may post online.  Do you think my assessment is over the top?  Frightened yet?

Chris Wyatt

Chris Wyatt

Colonel (Ret) Chris Wyatt, the Principal & CEO of the Indaba Africa Group, is a retired U.S. Army Military Intelligence Officer and Foreign Area Officer for Sub-Saharan Africa and past Director of African Studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was previously the Senior Military Advisor to the U.S. Mission to the African Union (USAU). He has lived across the continent (eight countries) and working in over 30 African countries.

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