A New Level of Dictatorship: The new Internet publishing regulations


When I was younger, and sometimes even today, I always thought our national government to be too incompetent to run as an effective dictatorship. Their damage was in the form of petty acts and economic regulations – overspending and corruption. They couldn’t run a police force and, as such, I didn’t believe they could effectively run the law enforcement necessary to enforce an authoritarian state.

When new Internet Regulations were announced, I had my usual reaction. Here was a piece of ill-thoughtout legislation which could possibly curb our freedom but was too unworkable to practically be enforced. I shared the article but laughed the prospect off. I may have been wrong.

The new regulations, in essence, want to regulate all content that is published online. This is mostly aimed at big organisations such as the press, a scary prospect in itself, but can also be expanded to any publication. This ranges from blogposts, YouTube videos, Soundcloud music, even Facebook comments.

The act may have been scaled down to only focus on online publications of the press, but that does not at all justify it. As much as a great deal of our physical press has been taken over by ANC puppets, our online publications such as Business Day, the Daily Maverick and Mail&Guardian still do a somewhat reasonable job in delivering unbiased news without fear or favour.

[UPDATE: Apparently, the press are going to be exempt from the law, but this is still hard to believe as the law still remains vague and broad.

This law can put a stop to that. Giving a state board the power to determine what can or cannot be put online sounds ludicrous, especially when looking at the scale of the internet and the track record of our government.

But there is a government who does make reasonable strides in regulating their citizens access to the internet and also happens to be good friends with our government.

Many African dictators, the ANC included, have found good allies in China, a state managing to retain its authoritarianism right past the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Chinese internet is heavily regulated to maintain control over the populace. Sites we take for granted are restricted and banned. YouTube, Facebook, Google – all prohibited.

A Great Firewall of South Africa is unlikely but the prospect of the SA Communications Minister visiting the home of the Great Wall is disturbing. Our state may not have the technical know-how to enforce internet regulations, but China does. Outsourcing state functions to China is nothing new to African governments. Outsourcing internet regulations will prove to be much easier than outsourcing highway construction.

Telkom, a parastatal, holds a state-mandated monopoly over constructing and providing the physical internet cables which allow us our internet. Till now, this has resulted in an overwhelmed and typically lacklustre service delivery that has held back our internet by years.

Telkom has control over providing data to all ISPs as well as the physical connections into our houses. In this way, they can provide the framework to make internet regulation a possibility.

So what can we do about it?

Our government seldom listens to the public as it knows its main electorate doesn’t care – but it will not hurt to attempt to raise opposition against this. We can all help to try stop this blatant attack on our freedom in its tracks:

The Internet is one of our last bastions of freedom. Let’s keep it that way.