The bill which was fiercely contested between the ruling party, African National Congress (ANC) and the opposition parties was passed with 189 voted in favour to 74 against.
The bill was widely criticised by NGOs and the South Africa media as well as the opposition parties. Critics said the bill will provide cover for government corruption and wasteful spending. The bill is expected to replace apartheid-era legislation on classified information and espionage.
Meanwhile, the minister of state for security, Mr Siyabonga Cwele, told Parliament that the bill would strengthen democracy.
“The bill would strengthen democracy, while balancing transparency and protecting our national security and national interests. There is no one who can hide corruption through this act,’’ he said. "Revised bill also provides whistleblowers with more protection."
Under the bill, espionage-related cases carry a punishment of up to 25 years in jail, while holding or disclosing classified material carries a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. In recent years, journalists have used leaked documents to accuse people in authority and leading members of ANC of corruption. Since it was first mooted in 2008, the bill has undergone several amendments, but was ultimately pushed through by the ANC’s overwhelming parliamentary majority.
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko described the bill as a “unconstitutional’’ and a threat to “democracy’s foundational values of freedom and openness’’.
“Media cannot function when important information is suppressed. Bad governance thrives under the cloak of darkness. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear,’’ she said.
The DA said it would lobby other opposition parties to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court. The bill is now expected to be signed into law by President Jacob Zuma.