Volume 7 No. 6 : Supplement - Parliament Focus
1 July 1996
SA’s largest people’s forum
The ANC has worked hard over the last two years to make parliament the voice of the people.
The African National Congress has provided the leadership in parliament over the last two years, and its policies have guided the institution’s work.
This was the message from ANC members of parliament during a series of briefings by ANC study groups to the media last month.
“We have ensured that ANC policy directs all activity here,” ANC national executive member Baleka Kgositsile said.
Kgositsile, ANC caucus chairperson until her recent appointment as deputy speaker, told Mayibuye the ANC caucus had effectively strategised the direction taken by parliament since the 1994 election.
During the briefings, ANC study group members described how the various portfolio committees had worked with ministers and government departments on legislation to transform South African society. Many MPs discussed the problems they had experienced both within parliament and with government departments.
One of the key challenges ANC MPs had faced was the transformation of parliament from a rubber-stamp of the former apartheid government to a parliament which could represent the interests of all South Africa’s people in government.
“Legislation is about trying to address conditions on the ground. The challenge to transform society suggests the need to transform this institution [parliament],” Kgositsile said.
Parliament had to become more active and more responsive to the public and their needs.
The challenge was to ensure that the business of parliament continued while the areas that needed change were identified, she said.
The task of transforming parliament has been hampered by a number of difficulties, not least of all the size of parliament.
“It is a very complex, very big institution – which is to be expected since parliament is expected to facilitate the management of the entire country,” she said.
There had also been insufficient emphasis on the need for professional management. For too long parliament had been run by the MPs with just secretarial back-up. Parliament needed professional managers to make it run efficiently.
“There are too many processes for MPs alone to keep a handle on all of them,” Kgositsile said.
Parliament has also had to dedicate more time and resources to the work of the portfolio committees, as they have begun to play a more active role in the development of legislation than in the past. In addition to processing bills developed in government departments, committees are increasingly initiating their own bills and interacting far more with stakeholders.
“There is much serious work for committees now than in the past,” Kgositsile said. “They are involved in driving the [legislative] process.
They ensure that laws are enriched by in-depth discussion and public input.” It has been necessary also to empower MPs to play a constructive role in this process. Most of the MPs elected to parliament in 1994 had never worked there before.
“Our people have done well, given that most of them hadn’t participated on this scale in public life before,” she said.
Struggle against apartheid continues in SA’s school system
The ANC has been waging an ideological battle in the education field against the new face of apartheid.
The National Party had vigorously opposed the transformation of the education system because it wanted to entrench existing inequalities in education, ANC education study group chair Blade Nzimande told journalists in Cape Town recently.
“Education is the main site where apartheid was reproduced, and the inequalities that still exist in education represent the last vestiges of the apartheid system. The NP wants to cling to that for as long as they can,” Nzimande said.
He said the NP was still an apartheid party, despite their protestations to the contrary.
This was evident in the National Party’s stance on single-medium schools in constitutional negotiations; its opposition last year to the National Education Policy Act; and its attempts to sabotage government negotiations with school governing bodies, Nzimande said.
The National Party had joined other opposition parties last year in blocking the passage through parliament of the National Education Policy Act by having sections of the Act referred to the Constitutional Court. In a ruling in March this year the court rejected the claims of the NP and other parties.
“The Minister [of Education] and the ANC study group were vindicated by the decisive judgement of the Constitutional Court affirming the constitutionality of the National Education Policy Act, and thus providing this government with an important instrument to use in the transformation of education,” he said.
In constitutional negotiations earlier this year, the National Party had insisted on the inclusion in the Education Clause of a right to single-medium schools. This was widely viewed as an attempt to entrench the privileged position of white Afrikaans schools.
The NP failed to have their position included in the constitution.
Instead, single-medium schools were mentioned as one of several options available to the government in providing education in the language of choice.
The ANC education study group and the ANC negotiating team had withstood “enormous pressure” from the NP to retain white privilege, Nzimande said.
“The entrenchment of education as a right, as well as the constitutional right to be taught in one’s language of choice is a major step forward in the transformation of education,” he said.
The National Party was also trying to sabotage negotiations between the government and school governing bodies in the Western Cape, Nzimande said.
According to the interim constitution, the government can’t alter the powers or functions of school governing bodies without holding negotiations with the bodies themselves. This was a compromise made in the face of NP pressure to maintain Model C schools, he said.
Education minister Sibusiso Bengu had therefore embarked on a massive consultation process with school governing bodies across the country, as the new Schools Bill could not be passed without proper negotiations.
Nzimande said several meetings with school governing bodies in the Western Cape had been disrupted. He said the National Party was behind these disruptions.
Although this provision would fall away when the interim constitution came into effect, probably later this year, Nzimande said the negotiations could be a good thing.
“We have turned section 247 [of the Interim constitution] from being a blocking mechanism to being a genuine consultation process,” he said.
The year of schooling
The ANC is well on track to making 1996 the year to open the doors of learning to all, according to ANC education study group chair Blade Nzimande.
“The entrenchment of education as a right in the new constitution, the South African Schools Bill to be passed this year, as well as the publication of a white paper on higher education represent the three most important steps to realise this goal,” he said.
The South African Schools Bill, due to be passed around September, deals with the governance, funding and organisation of schools. It makes provision for only two types of schools: public and private.
Schools that are currently Model C schools would revert back to normal public schools.
The school financing model still needed to be finalised, and was still a subject of discussion within the ANC, Nzimande said.
There was an understanding within the ANC that the government couldn’t implement immediately free education for all children for the first 10 years of schooling, though this was still the goal, he said.
“The bill needs to ensure poor children can attend school. No child should be excluded on the basis of an inability to pay fees,” he said.
The education portfolio committee has scheduled public hearings on the bill for August.
“We regard this piece of legislation as very important for the transformation of schooling and will finally South Africa beyond the apartheid education system,” Nzimande said.
Committees drive process in parliament
The increased responsibilities of parliament’s portfolio committees has placed a new set of pressures on MPs.
Parliament’s portfolio committees have become the engines of parliamentary work, playing a far more active role now than in the past.
And if the committees have become the engines, then the ANC study groups are the fuel that keep the committees running. This was the general theme emerging from a series of media briefings by ANC study group members held in Cape Town last month.
The portfolio committees are comprised of members of parliament drawn in proportion from each party. There is a portfolio committee for each government department. The education portfolio committee, for example, is meant to relate to the Department of Education – processing legislation arising from the department, monitoring its activities and inputting into its policy development.
Committees are increasingly providing a link between government departments and relevant stakeholders and the public, more broadly.
Members of the portfolio committees from a particular party generally form that party’s study group around that issue. All ANC members of the defence portfolio committee, for example, would be part of the ANC defence study group, where the organisation’s approach to defence issues would be strategised.
According to ANC finance study group chairperson Zingile Dingani, the work done in the study group directly affects the ANC’s performance in the finance portfolio committee.
“If we don’t have a study group meeting, then we don’t act in concert in the portfolio committee,” he said.
While all the organisation’s portfolio committee members attend the study group meetings, the study groups are not restricted. In a number of cases, ANC ministers and MECs also attend.
Education study group chair Blade Nzimande said education minister Sibusiso Bengu attended the study group meetings at least once a month to ensure constant consultation.
“By the time an issue comes to the committee, issues of difference [within the ANC] have been thrashed out. The way the minister relates to the study group reduces conflict and improves consultation,” he said.
Where issues concerned several government departments, the committees could work together. To properly monitor the effectiveness of the National Crime Prevention Strategy – which is an inter-departmental programme – the safety and security portfolio committee has resolved to have inter-committee workshops with the portfolio committees of justice and correctional services. The committee was also able to call representatives from other departments to appear before it.
The ANC study groups on safety and security, justice and correctional services would similarly hold workshops together to share information and strategise.
Although the committees are playing a far greater role than they used to, they have been hampered by a lack of resources, capacity and time.
“We are bombarded with lots of information, but there’s not enough time to process it and respond,” safety and security study group member Jenny Schreiner said.
The recent establishment of research units and employment of researchers for each party is seen as one way of relieving the pressure on the study group members and empowering them.
The parliamentary programme will also be re-organised from the beginning of the next session, due to start in August. Until, standing committees have had to meet in the mornings, while the National Assembly and Senate sat in the afternoon. This led to a lot of scheduling clashes, as many MPs were expected to be at two or more committee meetings at the same time. From next session, committee work would be given a whole week followed by a week of sittings of the National Assembly and Senate.
Ending apartheid local govt
Changing local government is the next priority of the constitutional development committee.
Now that the new constitution is completed, the constitutional development portfolio committee will be focussing its attention on the transformation of local government.
Portfolio committee and study group chair Pravin Gordhan said his committee, whose responsibility includes provincial and local government affairs, would be working towards developing a comprehensive and “more or less permanent” local government Act in the course of next year.
He said the committee would be looking particularly at development planning at a local government level.
“We are concerned that the apartheid city isn’t unwittingly or through omission entrenched,” he said.
He said the committee would have to develop laws to allow local councils to redesign the apartheid city.
This would include putting more effort into training programmes at a local level, so local government was equipped for a developmental role.
“Local government training doesn’t meet the needs… Town planner are still in the old South Africa,” he said.
The task of the committee was made easier by the new constitution: “There is now a clearer constitutional regime governing the functioning of local government,” he said.
The chapter on local government in the new constitution was unique in that it gave local government a special status, including a role in national legislation through the Council of Provinces. The council of provinces will replace the current senate once the constitution has been certified by the Constitutional Court and promulgated by the president.
The Portfolio Committee would have to work on legislation to give effect to local government representation in the council.
Before a comprehensive local government law is completed next year, the portfolio committee would need to continue monitoring and pushing the transition of local government. It would also need to consider bridging legislation to deal with urgent issues in the transition period.
Public hearings on the bridging legislation would take place in August, followed by hearings on the local government white paper.
There were currently about 25 laws which impacted on local government, which needed to be reviewed and consolidated, Gordhan said.
New constitution gives committee lots of work
The constitutional development portfolio committee would take over the work of the Constitutional Assembly once the new constitution was certified, ANC constitutional development study group chair Pravin Gordhan said.
The committee would be responsible for the implementation and popularisation of the new constitution. Gordhan said he was keen to have a programme in place so that the public interest that had been generated through the constitution writing process could be sustained.
The committee would be involved in developing legislation to give effect to the constitutional provision that local government be represented in the Council of Provinces.
It would also need to work on legislation governing relations between different levels of government, in line with the constitution’s principle of cooperative governance. This was likely to happen in the next session of parliament, Gordhan said.
If the constitution is certified by the Constitutional Court this month, the senate would be dissolved by the end of the year and replaced by the Council of Provinces. The portfolio committee would also be involved in managing this transition, he said.
More discussion needed on land
Land reform is going well, but some policy issues are not yet resolved.
While the government’s land reform programme was progressing well, the ANC still needed to develop policy around a number of crucial issues, ANC land affairs study group chair Patekile Holomisa recently told journalists.
Speaking at the ANC Parliamentary Media Summit, Holomisa said the ANC was still discussing the sale of private land to foreigners, the relationship between land and mineral rights and individual ownership of communally-owned land.
He also said the study group was concerned by the delay in negotiations between the ministries of land affairs and defence over land in the Northern Cape from which black communities had been removed and which had been given to the former SA Defence Force.
“This delay is causing untold anguish and frustration to the three affected communities, whose emotional attachment to the land can only be understood by their preparedness to die from unexploded landmines should they be returned to their ancestral lands,” he said.
Holomisa said the study group was discussing the issue of the sale of private land in South Africa to foreigners. He said although the ANC and the government did not have a policy on the matter, the “preliminary attitude” of the study group was that any sale to foreigners of South African land needed to be for the benefit of landless communities.
While the government could not adopt a stance which would scare off potential investors, they said the government’s land redistribution programme could not be jeopardised.
“We would rather that land which is available for sale must first be made available to the state for redistribution to the landless before it is sold to foreigners,” Holomisa said.
The ANC still needed to discuss the transfer of ownership to individual residents of land which is communally-owned, like tribal land. The lack of a clear policy on this has hampered the provision of housing, in particular, to many rural families. The government housing subsidy of R15 000 is only available to people who have title deeds to the land they occupy. This disqualifies people who live on communally-owned land.
“The position of the study group is that people living in communally – owned land must have security – they can’t be arbitrarily removed,” Holomisa said. The issue of the transfer of ownership of communal land to individuals is, however, still under discussion, he said.
Ultimately it would be up to the members of a tribe to decide how ownership of their land should be regulated, he said.
The ANC study group is also conducting research on the question of mineral rights. It was not acceptable to the study group that rights to minerals do not get automatically transferred to people who acquire land. “Until we are convinced otherwise, the acquisition of land should go hand in hand with the acquisition of mineral rights attached to such land,” he said.
Farmworkers still insecure
Farmworkers in many parts of the country remain vulnerable to eviction by farm owners, according to ANC land affairs study group chair Patekile Holomisa.
While the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act was passed by parliament to provide security to labour tenants, farmworkers have not received similar protection.
The study group has given its support to land affairs minister Derek Hanekom’s call for a summit of all stakeholders to deal with “the vulnerable position of farmworkers”.
The labour tenants act prevents the eviction from farms of people who have been granted land to live and work on in return for the provision of labour to the farm owner. The law also entitles them to buy the land that they occupy.
Without a similar law to prevent the eviction of farmworkers, a summit of stakeholders is being proposed. “At this stage, we can only call on farmers to desist from carrying out acts of inhumanity against defenceless South Africans,” Holomisa said.
MPs need finance know-how
To be able to build houses and deliver services, MPs need to be educated about finance.
One of the greatest challenges facing the ANC study group on finance is building the capacity of ANC members of parliament to understand and participate in the development of financial policy, according to recently-elected study group chair Zingile Dingani.
Dingani was chosen to replace Gill Marcus, after she was appointed deputy finance minister. “You find that the majority of our people get bored very quickly when you start talking about finance,” he told an ANC Parliamentary Media Briefing.
He said MPs in committees other than finance often did not appreciate how their portfolios were reliant on finance. He said the study group wanted to organise a workshop for these MPs, looking particularly at the fiscal relationship between national and provincial government.
To be able to deliver houses, MPs needed to understand how government was able to collect and manage revenue to able to deliver, he said.
Dingani said the government’s recently-released economic policy document – Growth, Employment and Development Strategy – was correct and much needed.
“Having been given the different economic scenarios [for South Africa], we realised that this kind of document is the only option open to us as a country,” he said.
Dingani said the strategy, which provided critical direction, was both reasonable and achievable. “Everyone in South Africa must come out in support of it,” he said.
The Growth, Employment and Development Strategy was, however, not a replacement for the Reconstruction and Development Programme: “The strategy makes it possible to implement the RDP more effectively,” he said.
Dingani said the strategy was essential to address the “time bomb” of unemployment, particularly among the youth. “Unless you address that the stability that we’ve achieved in South Africa won’t last,” he said.
He said it was correct to reduce the level of wasteful government spending, since money couldn’t be taken away from social security.
State must occupy housing centre stage
While housing delivery is on the rise, the ANC study group says government should be more directly involved in building houses.
The government must become far more directly involved in the provision of housing, as homelessness has reached crisis proportions, ANC housing study group chairperson Titus Mafolo told the ANC Parliamentary Media Summit.
He said a distinction should be drawn between a standard housing programme and a crisis programme: “Up until now, we have worked on an approach that is adequate as a standard or medium term programme for manageable homelessness. This has made little impact on homelessness of crisis proportions.” He said his committee would recommend to the housing department that the new housing law provide for a more hands-on approach by government to housing delivery. This view was supported by public hearings which the housing portfolio committee had held, he said.
“The withdrawal of the state [from direct housing provision] has not worked,” he said.
The government should draw up plans – using a task team of engineers, architects and urban planners – for mass delivery of low cost housing in areas of greatest need, Mafolo said. These plans should consider issues like urban sprawl, new models of housing including rental accommodation, the maximum use of existing infrastructure and accessibility to economic opportunities.
Although housing delivery had started to pick up, there were a number of reasons why the current subsidy scheme had not built as many houses as were necessary. These included:
- lack of administrative, technical and managerial capacity in most provinces;
- inadequate capacity among some developers and contractors;
- that the housing programme was developer-driven, not steered by government;
- the reluctance of banks to invest in disadvantaged and depressed communities;
- until recently, the absence of a mass contracting programme.
A housing programme which was driven by developers would be driven by profit. Where profit margins were low – particularly in low cost housing – delivery would be slow, Mafolo said.
This did not mean that the private sector should be removed from the housing process: “The private sector must be encouraged to continue to play their role as in the past, but they should not be expected to solve the housing crisis that is facing the country.” Government should continue to enter into partnerships with the private sector, including banks, for mass housing delivery. Tax and rate incentives should also be used to encourage more private investment in housing, he said.
“While playing a central role in housing delivery, through the different tiers of government and parastatals, government-led projects for low cost housing should be put out for tender to private construction firms with capacity, but on condition that they will sub-contact a percentage of the work to small and medium enterprise and use labour intensive methods,” he said.
Local government needed, through the new housing legislation, to be given capacity to play a central role in building houses and infrastructure. The responsibility for providing infrastructure should rest with local councils, so that individual home owners didn’t need to spend their housing subsidy on getting the infrastructure, he said.
The ANC study group said a land pooling system needed to be established so the state could use well located land in cities for housing. State land couldn’t be bought by the poor, because it was being sold at market prices. As a result, low cost housing was likely to be developed far from economic centres.
“If the poor live outside the city, you aren’t solving the social problems,” Mafolo said.
Parliament keeps an eye on intelligence services
Civilian monitoring of the South African intelligence services is only eight months old, but has achieved some successes.
The idea of parliamentary oversight of South Africa’s intelligence services has not been easy for the services to accept, outgoing intelligence joint standing committee chair Lindiwe Sisulu-Guma said.
Briefing media on the committee’s first annual report to the president, Sisulu-Guma said this was largely because the service was “highly militarised”.
“In the beginning we found militarisation a difficult problem. We were viewed with hostility and suspicion. But we’ve managed to relate [to people in the service] from that point onwards,” she said.
The committee was established last year in terms of the Intelligence Control Act, which makes the country’s intelligence services fully accountable to parliament and has to ensure that the services do not contravene the law or the constitution.
The committee said it wanted to change the intelligence legislation so that its financial control over the civilian intelligence service was extended to the police and military services. This, the committee said, would improve cooperation from these services.
“Our relationship with the military and police [intelligence] services is not as fluid as with the civilian service, because we don’t hold the purse strings,” she said.
Sisulu-Guma said the committee’s role in passing the intelligence budget was the only “stick” the committee had to bring the services into line.
The committee had asked the ministries of defence and safety and security and the intelligence services to establish whether any of their files were missing, after the committee discovered, during a visit to the military intelligence academy, that files detailing former military intelligence covert activities had been destroyed.
Defence force chief George Meiring had “cheerfully admitted” to the committee that the documents had been destroyed in terms of the Archives Act. The committee had sought legal opinion on what government policy on this matter was.
During its first eight months, the committee had to work “under a great deal of strain”. The committee had investigated allegations against the National Intelligence Agency of spying on senior police officials. It had also investigated charges of assault against National Intelligence Agency director general Sezakele Sigxashe, and had appointed an Inspector General to monitor the activities of the intelligence service.
As a result of these pressures, the committee had operated “far beyond party political constraints”.
The committee had gone on a study tour of Britain, the United States, Canada and Italy to examine how parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies was performed in other countries. South Africa had one of the top five oversight systems in the world, Sisulu-Guma said.
If it could be perfected here, it could be sold to the rest of the world, she said.
Lindiwe Sisulu-Guma stepped down as intelligence joint standing committee chair after she was sworn in as Deputy Minister of Home Affairs. President Nelson Mandela has yet to appoint her replacement.
Cultural diversity needs financial support
Equity and diversity are the key objectives of South Africa’s arts and culture policy.
The recently-released white paper on arts and culture was a major shift from past policy, according to ANC arts, culture, science and technology study group chair Wally Serote.
Serote said the paper supported the integration of arts and culture facilities in the country so that the broadest possible section of South African society could have access to them.
The portfolio committee was in broad terms in support of the white paper because it wanted to develop the diversity of South African culture, he said.
One of the main proposals in the white paper is for the establishment of a National Arts Council, which “will seek to bring equity to the arts and culture dispensation”. The main task of the council would be to distribute public funds to artists, cultural institutions, non- governmental organisations and community-based organisations. The council would be expected to distribute this money to promote the variety of South African literature, oral history and story telling, music, dance, theatre, opera, photography, visual art and craft.
The council would also provide bursaries for study in arts and culture, and would be required to perform some research. Whether the council should be involved in the development of policy was up for debate, Serote said.
While there was general agreement that the National Arts Council needed to mediate between government and society, there were still some issues which needed to be debated. The one view was that the government should keep the council at arms length, while the other was that it should play a more direct role in ensuring that the funds given to the council were spent properly, he said.
The key issue which the white paper needed to address was how to ensure that indigenous arts and culture gained prominence in the country.
“South Africa is not a European country, its an African country. What do we need to do to ensure that African cultural expression becomes part of mainstream cultural expression,” he said.
“Both arts and culture, and science and technology explore and create,” Serote said. If these resources were properly mobilised and organised, they could have a major impact on the country’s consciousness: “Making South Africa’s people ready for the 21st century.”
SA culture could become major export
Arts and culture in South Africa, if organised properly, could become a very good provider of revenue. This was because there were some arts and crafts which, according ANC MP Wally Serote, “are uniquely and peculiarly South African”.
Serote said there were three art forms which the government should provide back-up to in the form of resources and expertise.
The South African film industry needed support to becomes accessible to the international community. “This country has millions of stories which can be told through film,” Serote said.
The craft industry could be developed to benefit women in rural areas, in particular. “These women have the skills, but need resources, infrastructure and business capacity,” he said.
The broad spectrum of music which existed in South Africa made it another candidate for special attention. “We have music expressions which exist nowhere else in the world, which are very enriching,” he said.
“We are looking here at possible multi-million rand industries,” he said.
Science and technology key to competitive SA
South Africa’s economic future depends on its attitude towards the development of science and technology.
Unless South Africa placed more emphasis on science and technology, it would not be able to compete economically within the international community, ANC arts, culture, science and technology study group chair Wally Serote said.
It had therefore been decided to declare 1998 the Year of Science and Technology. A working committee which included the portfolio committee, the ministry, the department and science and technology stakeholders was already in the process of being set up.
Among the issues which the committee would be looking at was an audit of indigenous science and technology, introducing science and technology in primary schools and getting broader society to participate in the programme.
Part of this process was the transformation of the country’s nine science councils. “These councils need to be exposed to the whole nation as national science and technology facilities,” Serote said.
He said the parliamentary portfolio committee would monitor how science councils were being transformed and whether they reflected the composition of South African society.
“We have to work out joint programmes which locate the science councils in communities which were disadvantaged,” he said.