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“I have referred the bill back to the National Assembly for reconsideration” President Zuma told reporters in Cape Town.
The South African leader said he found certain sections of the bill “irrational and “unconstitutional”.
The Protection of State Information Bill, dubbed the “Secrecy Bill” by its opponents, was passed by 189 votes to 74 in April by the African Parliament.
It aims to regulate the classification, protection and dissemination of state information.
The president’s signing of the bill into law was expected to be a mere formality, although social activists, trade unions and South African icons like Desmond Tutu and Nadine Gordimer had voiced their opposition to the bill expressing concern that it would muzzle the voices of whistleblowers.
“I realised that there are sections that needed to be fixed,” Zuma said on Thursday.
The president was referring to section 45 and section 48 of the controversial bill.
Section 45 criminalises the improper classification of state information with prison sentences of five to 15 years, depending on the level of wrongful classification.
Section 48 stipulates that the written authority of the National Director of Public Prosecutions is needed to institute charges in respect of any crime under the legislation that carries a jail term of five years or more.
Meanwhile, Speaker Max Sisulu informed the National Assembly that an ad-hoc committee would be established to deal with the president’s reservations on the bill.
South Africa’s State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele said the ruling African National Congress (ANC) welcomed the president’s decision saying “it would strengthen the legislation”.
The ANC has repeatedly argued that this is one of the most debated pieces of legislation in South Africa, incorporating many changes put forth by several civil rights groups.
Former chief whip of the ANC, Mathole Motshekga had said earlier that the bill is “probably one of the most consultative bills since the advent of democracy in 1994. Hundreds of amendments, over 800 of them, have been made on this bill – which makes it a complete redraft of what was originally tabled in parliament five years ago.”