Learner’s Submission: Access to Data in South Africa

“There is legislation in South Africa that relates to access to data. The main act that deals with access to information in South Africa is The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), Act of 2000. PAIA gives the right of access to any information held by the State and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.

PAIA has a number of objectives which are: to give effect to the constitutional right of access to any information, to set out justifiable limitations on the right of access to information aimed at protecting people’s privacy, confidential commercial information and ensuring effective, efficient and good governance; to balance the right of access to information with all the other rights in the constitution; to promote a culture of human rights and social justice; to establish mechanisms and procedures to enable persons to obtain access to records as swiftly, inexpensively and effortlessly as is reasonably possible; to promote transparency, accountability and effective governance; to empower and educate everyone to: understand their rights in terms of the act; understand the functions and operation of public bodies; and effectively scrutinize and participate in decision-making by public bodies that affects their rights.

The South African Human Rights Commission offers a guide to this law and how to use it. There is also a DVD guide available through the South African History Archive which includes case studies of how citizens went about using the Promotion of Access to Information Act in order to obtain data and information. This DVD was made possible through the funding of the Claude Leon Foundation and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.

There is also an Electronic Communications Transaction Act of 2002 that regulates electronic communications and transactions and works to promote the sharing of electronic information. Currently, there is a hot topic that is in the news that deals with the Protection of Information Bill. This bill is now being debated in Parliament and would allow government to withhold information from the public that they believe could be ‘harmful’ to the benefits of nation building. However, it is proposed that the bill allows government to withhold information relating to tenders, for example, since it covers the protection and preservation of all things owned or maintained for the public by the State and also commercial information in the government’s possession. Many journalists and citizens at large are very concerned about this proposed restriction of access to information because of the imminent allegations of corruption within the South African government, especially with regard to tenders.

I personally have never had the need to access data from the state or from the private sector and have not had the need to use any legislation to obtain information or data. I have only made use of the University of South Africa’s library, other libraries, the internet and the media for my information requirements.” –  Shanti Coetzer – Pretoria, South Africa

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