People’s Power, People’s Parliament: A Civil Society Conference on South Africa’s Legislatures

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About the Conference

July 10, 2012

“Earlier this year, Deputy President Motlanthe asked us to consider whether we are accessible enough to the people we represent?”
Hon Sisulu, Speaker of the National Assembly, Budget Vote (Parliament) 2012, 29th May 2012

"As the democratic body entrusted with the oversight of government, we are responsible to ensure that government is obliged to account to the people, for all its decisions and actions. Parliament as a key institution of democracy does not only hold government accountable, but is itself also accountable to the people."
Hon Sisulu, Speaker of the National Assembly, 124th IPU Assembly, 16 April 2011

Ongoing service delivery protests and crises in education and health underline the country's struggle to realise the constitution's promise of socio-economic rights. To what extent are South Africa's Provincial Legislatures and National Parliament playing their role in addressing these challenges? What obstacles do the country's legislatures face in playing a pro-active role on these issues? And what can civil society do to support these key democratic institutions in fulfilling their mandate as the interface between the executive and ordinary citizens?

In its Vision for 2030, the National Planning Commission raised "serious concerns about whether parliament is currently fulfilling its role adequately in the building of a capable, accountable and responsive state" – one that can address poverty, inequality and provide public services.

People's Power, People's Parliament: A Civil Society Conference on South Africa's Legislatures created a platform for civil society to jointly debate these questions, deliberate on concerns, dialogue with public representatives, and collectively find ways to support the legislatures in their contribution to realising the socio-economic promises of the constitution.

The conference aimed to:

  • Build knowledge of and 'popularise' South Africa’s parliamentary processes, especially those pertaining to oversight;
  • Open a constructive dialogue between parliament and civil society on issues such as representativity, accountability and legitimacy; 
  • Link the work of National Parliament and the Provincial Legislatures, specifically the oversight and budgetary functions, to service delivery and socio-economic rights; 
  • Promote and question the ways in which civil society can make stronger claims on the parliamentary space to advance democracy and social justice; 
  • Encourage collective civil society engagement with parliament as an institution (towards a stronger civil society engagement with the parliamentary space); 
  • Build citizen and public 'ownership' of the Legislatures as a key institutions of our democracy. 

In the spirit of strengthening South Africa's constitutional democracy, parties to the conference developed a Civil Society Memorandum on South African Legislatures.