South Africa’s executive grows, Parliament is the loser

For immediate release 06 June 2014

Issued by Community Law Centre, UWC; Parliamentary Monitoring Group; Section 27 and the Women’s Legal Centre

As South Africa’s executive under the ANC government has been enlarged and strengthened, proposed changes to the country’s national parliament seem set to weaken its capacity for oversight.

To date, National Assembly committees have been structured to shadow the work of a particular ministry their role being to hold departments to account; and to perform oversight interrogating departments’ policies, use of resources and performance. “Parliament’s particular value in our constitutional democracy is that, along with its mandate to represent and respond to the interests of citizens, it must conduct most of its work in public,” explains Samantha Waterhouse of the Community Law Centre, UWC.

However, Wednesday’s Rules committee meeting proposed plans to drastically reduce the institution’s committees and to restructure into cluster work. Although the details are not yet clear, proposals include merging various committees, such as Energy and Public Enterprises into one. In addition, it has been proposed that committee membership be reduced from 13 to 11 members.

As citizen’s groups who engage with parliament to advance social justice, and who believe – as our Constitution stipulates – that Parliament is designated as the heart of our democracy, we are alarmed by this development.

Unfortunately, it seems that as the executive gets pumped up, so parliament gets slimmed down”, observed Christi van der Westhuizen, a leading political analyst and author. Over the past 15 years, National Parliament’s authority and relevance have steadily declined. Consecutively, South Africa’s democratic parliaments have struggled to assert their oversight role over the executive. “Rather than strengthening oversight, the proposed restructuring will further diminish parliament’s ability to fulfil its constitutional mandate of oversight over and ensuring accountability of the executive, “explains Sanja Bornman of the Women’s Legal Centre.

It is not only that fewer committees will reduce Parliament’s capacity to deal with an even more bloated executive. “The proposal seems unworkable, committees have already struggled with overwhelming workloads, how can they function if they are doubled?” says Bornman.

The previous Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, Annelize van Wyk,is on record describing the challenges committees experience due to limited time and an overwhelming task of a single committee having to monitor a number of different departments and entities with large budgets. At a conference hosted by civil society in 2012, she described 12 to 13 hour working days to meet deadlines. “Our challenges remain independent information.. and time, time and again time – it’s a huge challenge,” she stated.

Similarly, the previous Committee focussed on Justice had a particularly high law reform work-load, as well as being mandated to monitor the strategic focus, quality of work, accountability and spending of the Department, and at least three other major entities within that. Added to this it must, by law, perform annual oversight over the implementation of several pieces of legislation. By its own account it has failed to perform this oversight over the past three years due to insufficient time.

In the proposed structure, it’s difficult to see how incorporating the portfolios, can address these challenges. Committees cannot effectively fulfil their mandate when their work is doubled and their time halved.

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) indicates while committees may ask the right questions, time limits prevent proper engagement on these. “Although responses were asked for in writing, departments often failed to do so and committees failed to follow up. If more entities are added, it’s going to become impossible to be serious about oversight,” explains Gaile Fullard, director of the PMG.

The issue of failed follow-up is particularly poignant in terms of the crises in education and health services: In January 2012, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education noted in its oversight visit report to Limpopo that it had requested follow up and response from the Department regarding the non-delivery of textbooks. Unfortunately, the department never responded, and the Committee never followed up. The failure of the previous Portfolio Committee on Health to effectively intervene between the KZN Provincial Department of Health and the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has meant that lab services in that province have been discontinued, putting millions at risk of late detection of HIV/Aids and TB. “Slapping health in with another public service in the ‘cluster’ would be disastrous to sectors already in crisis,” stated Thoko Madonko of Section 27.

Parliament is tasked with representing and responding to citizens, and using its framework has done this at times such as in the case of the Protection of Information Bill as well as the Traditional Courts Bill. The changes proposed in the Rules Committee threaten these. “Public engagement will no doubt be undermined if a single committee is expected to scrutinise, listen to citizen input, and make a meaningful contribution to the budgets of multiple entities under severe time constraints,” argues Waterhouse.

The proposal to reduce the number of committees will lead to a weakened parliament, and in turn, a weaker democracy. Alongside the Public Protector, this is yet another key institution being hung out to dry,” said Keren Ben-Zeev from the Heinrich Boell Foundation. van der Westhuizen, sums it up: “The proposals tabled in the Rules Committee are a perfect example of sticking to the letter but not the spirit of the Constitution. In other words – parliament as an institution in such a compromised form – including now, sheer capacity – can only fail at its function.


For comment contact:

Keren Ben-Zeev, Heinrich Boell Foundation – +27 72 323 9393

Samantha Waterhouse, Community Law Centre, UWC – +27 84 522 9646

Thoko Madonko, Section 27 – +27 83 710 3440

Sanja Bornman, Women’s Legal Centre – +27 83 522 2933

Gaile Fullard, Parliamentary Monitoring Group – +27 72 198 5858





Shukumisa campaign requests the support of Parliament in creating committees dedicated to oversight on women’s issues

shukumisa logo


For attention:

  1. Hon. B Mbete, Speaker, National Assembly, Parliament of South Africa,  speaker@parliament.gov.za
  1. Hon T Modise, Chairperson, National Council of Provinces, Parliament of South Africa, ljiyane@parliament.gov.za



  1. Hon P Mabe, Member, National Assembly, Parliament of South Africa, bmabe@parliament.gov.za
  1. Hon L Greyling, Member, National Assembly, Parliament of South Africa, lance@id.org.za
  1. Hon. L van der Merwe, Member, National Assembly, Parliament of South Africa, lvandermerwe@parliament.gov.zaliezl@ifp.co.za
  1. Mr. M Shozi, Chairperson, Commission on Gender Equality, queeneth@cge.org.za
  1. Adv. ML Mushwana, Chairperson, South African Human Rights Commission, mshabangu@sahrc.org.za


04 June 2014


The Shukumisa Campaign would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your respective appointments as the Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. We look forward to a fruitful engagement with you in the coming term.

The Shukumisa Campaign was developed in 2008 by members of the National Working Group on Sexual Offences (NWGSO). The NWGSO was originally formed in 2004 to advocate around the proposed Sexual Offences Bill. On the Bill’s enactment in late 2007, the NWGSO turned its focus to the implementation of the Act via the Shukumisa Campaign. The Shukumisa Campaign has a vision of a South Africa with well crafted, well implemented sexual offences legislation and a strong criminal justice system that supports rape survivor’s access to justice and provides a clear deterrent to rapists.

We are aware that this is a busy time for you both, organising and establishing the various committees in the legislatures. This correspondence serves to enquire about the plans for legislative oversight and accountability mechanisms to promote women’s and gender rights and to encourage the establishment of NA and NCOP committees dedicated to these issues.

With the recent announcement of Cabinet, the President has advised that the Ministry of Women would once again be brought under the auspices of the Presidents’ office. This raises obvious questions about the continued existence of the Portfolio Committee WCPD, and the programmes and legislation that was put forward during the past term.

We believe that the establishment of the Ministry is not sufficient. We note that the role of the legislatures in our representative (and participatory) democracy is distinct from that of the executive in its mandate inter alia to serve as a public forum for political accountability and oversight over the executive. We recognise the previous role of the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus as a forum for discussion and strategy on these issues in Parliament, however this forum did not function directly to address accountability of departments; nor did the caucus provide a sufficiently public forum for public engagement in these issues.

We believe that there must be dedicated oversight and accountability mechanisms in the legislatures, and in particular in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces to focus on the amendment, development and implementation of law, policy and programmes to promote women’s rights. Such committees should be responsible for oversight and accountability regarding the strategies, budgets and accountability of the new Women’s Ministry in the Presidency and the Commission on Gender Equality.

In addition to this role of direct accountability over the CGE and the Women’s Ministry, the more critical role that such committees can play, is to promote coordinated oversight and accountability on the implementation of law, policy and programmes to promote women’s rights across the range of responsible government departments. These include Justice, Health, Social Development, and Police amongst others.

During the fourth Parliament the Portfolio and Select Committees on Women, Children and People with Disabilities undertook a number of such initiatives. Examples relating to women include their work in calling various departments to address failures in implementation of the Domestic Violence Act, addressing ukuthwala and virginity testing practices, and promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered and intersex people amongst others. These committees undertook many other such processes of oversight in relation to the rights of people with disabilities and children’s rights. In our view these proved vital to ensuring a stronger strategic focus and accountability within these institutions on issues relating to women.

There are a number of outstanding issues with significant impact on women in need of progress beyond the question of implementing existing legislation including the decriminalisation of sex work, and the recognition of religious marriages, prevention of hate crimes, as well as domestic partnerships.

We believe that legislative oversight is a critical element of the National Gender Machinery, the current failure to realise women’s rights through the established legal and policy framework call for high level political leadership to address the ongoing challenges of implementation. While this should partly be provided by the structures established in the executive, we submit that a dedicated focus on women’s lives within the legislatures, and strong leadership in those structures remain central.

We look forward to continued and robust engagement with the legislatures to promote women’s rights in South Africa in this next phase.


Yours sincerely


Samantha Waterhouse

Parliamentary Programme

Community Law Centre

University of the Western Cape

021 461 2647

084 522 9646


On behalf of the Shukumisa Campaign


Shukumisa Campaign members
Agisanang Domestic Abuse Prevention and Training (ADAPT) Gauteng
AIDS Legal Network Western Cape
Childline SA KZN
Community Law Centre, UWC Western Cape
Coping Centre Eastern Cape
Dept. of Social Responsibility – Anglican Church Eastern Cape
Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Gauteng
Epilepsy SA Western Cape
FAMSA Pietermaritzburg KZN
GRIP Mpumalanga
Ikhwezi Womens Support Centre Eastern Cape
WISER, Wits University Gauteng
Justice and Women KZN
Legal Resource Centre National
Lethabong Legal Advice Centre North West
Lifeline Durban KZN
Lifeline PMB KZN
Limpopo Legal Advice Centre Limpopo
Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre Eastern Cape
MOSAIC Training, Service and Healing Centre for Women Western Cape
NISAA Gauteng
Peddie WSC Eastern Cape
POWA Gauteng
Project Empower KZN
RAPCAN Western Cape
Rape Crisis Cape Town Western Cape
Rape Crisis PE Eastern Cape
REMMOHO Womens Organisation Gauteng
SANAC Womens Sector/ WC Network on Violence Against Women Western Cape
Sexual Assault Clinic Gauteng
Sonke Gender Justice Western Cape
Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce and Sisonke Sex Workers’ Movement Western Cape
Teddy Bear Clinic Gauteng
Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Project Limpopo
Thusanang Advice Centre Free State
Tipfuxeni Limpopo
Triangle Project Western Cape
Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre Gauteng
Gender Health and Justice Research Unit, UCT Western Cape
Voice Movement Therapy Eastern Cape Eastern Cape
Women and Men Against Child Abuse Gauteng
Women on Farms Western Cape
Women on Farms Northern Cape
Women’s Legal Centre Western Cape





Call for Chapters: Women`s Rights in the XXI Century

This post originally appeared on the Writers Afrika website.

Deadline: 5 June 2012

Each chapter should combine theoretical considerations & practical problems affecting women. We welcome chapters devoted to the following topics (but not limited to):

– Women`s Rights (legal studies, case studies)
– Women`s Rights & Conflict
– Sexual violence
– Women`s Rights & Migration (displacement, refugees)
– Women`s Rights in developing countries
– Women`s Rights & Democracy
– Women`s Rights & Religion
– Women`s Rights & Culture
– Women`s Rights & Activism
– Women`s Rights & Community Development
– Women`s Rights in Public International Law
– Mothers’ Rights
– Other problems affecting women

Prospective contributors are invited to submit their initial proposals (500 words) and short CV to the editors by June 5, 2012. The invited essays (8000-9000 words) are to be submitted by July 15, 2012.

The language of the proposed publication is English. Please also feel welcome to circulate this call for papers to colleagues who may be interested in contributing a paper.

Deadline for abstract submissions: June 5, 2012.

Deadline for final chapters: July 15, 2012.


For inquiries/ submissions: caroline.schultz.unim@gmail.com