Highly acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt has decided to renounce a top South African award, in protest against the Protection of State Information Bill, which was passed by Parliament on Tuesday November 22.

This came after a protracted but failed battle by activists, the media, and civil society to alter draconian clauses within the Bill. Read his letter to President Jacob Zuma stating his reasons.

Dear Mr. President,

On March 29 2011 I was informed by the Chancellor of Orders that I had been awarded the Order of Ikhamanga Silver, which I accepted with gratitude and in humble awareness of the honour that had been bestowed on me. I was not able to attend the ceremony of presentation on April 27. However, I was informed that the award would be presented to me on April 27 2012.

I profoundly regret to inform you that I now decline the award. I do this for two reasons.

Firstly in protest against the Protection of State Information Bill that was passed in Parliament on Tuesday 23 November. The damage done to our democracy by the very passing of this Bill, and the damage that is likely to ensue should you sign it into law, has been emphatically and eloquently stated by others and I will not attempt to describe it here. Suffice to say that this action severely undermines our brave but fragile democracy and the rule of law.

Secondly, I decline the award in protest against what has been done to the spirit in which the award was created. I quote from the official history of our National Orders:

South Africa has taken many strides away from its past of exclusion and discrimination on the basis of sex, colour and creed. The country has been steadily moving forward in a direction that reasserts our humanity. In this march towards humanity, a new culture of human rights and a respect for the dignity of the human spirit have become characteristics of South Africa.

One of the symbolic moments of the exodus from the past was the raising of the new flag in 1994. This moment aptly affirmed the pride and dignity of an unfolding country and a celebration of humanity. Another was the unveiling of a new Coat of Arms on 27 April 2000 that embraced the collective historical essence of the people of the country. In so doing, a new aesthetic that takes consideration of Africa and her symbols became part of the new culture that informs a South African rebirth.

The new National Orders have been conceived in the spirit of that rebirth.

I submit Mr President that you, your Government and the party that passed this Bill are in contempt of that spirit. The Bill itself, the manner in which it was pushed through Parliament in the face of clear rejection by substantial numbers of people and respected organs of civil society and, if it is signed by you, the existence of such legislation in our law, are the very antithesis of the spirit in which our National Awards were conceived.

To accept the Order of Ikhamanga from you on April 27 would be to endorse your contempt. I refuse to do that and, very sadly, I decline the honour.

David Goldblatt