Home

From the Fourth to the Fifth Democratic Parliament

Reading Time: 12 minutes

South Africa’s fifth democratic election on the 7 May will result in the formation of the fifth democratic Parliament.

The fifth democratic Parliament will be composed of parties who contested the election and also received enough votes in the election to get representation in Parliament.

Although the two Houses of Parliament – the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) – had their last sittings in March, they continue to function.

The NA remained able to function until the 6 May and the members of the NCOP remain members until the next members are appointed, after the election on 7 May.

The May election and declaration of the voting results

Every five years, from 1999, the Tshwane Events Centre – formerly called the Pretoria Showgrounds – takes centre stage as the Electoral Commission’s national results operations centre in South Africa’s general election.

Then, the place, usually associated with agricultural shows, plays host to a battalion of journalists, international election observers and anxious political party leaders and members.

In 2009, 26 political parties contested the general election held in April. Only 13 received enough votes to secure representation in the NA, however, and the number of NA representatives to which they were entitled depended on how many votes each party received.

Our system of proportional representation means that even parties which receive relatively few votes can be represented. So, of the 13 political parties with representation in the National Assembly of the fourth democratic Parliament, nine had fewer than five representatives. These were the Independent Democrats, the Freedom Front Plus, the United Democratic Movement, the African Christian Democratic Party, the United Christian Democratic Party, the African People’s Convention, the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Minority Front and the Pan Africanist Congress.

Three of these nine each had four representatives – the Independent Democrats, the Freedom Front Plus and the United Democratic Movement.

One party had three representatives (the African Christian Democratic Party), one party had two (the United Christian Democratic Party) and four parties each had one representative – the African People’s Convention, the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Minority Front and the Pan Africanist Congress.

As our first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela, said in 1995 in his Long Walk To Freedom memoir: “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road.”

The 2004 general election resulted in 12 political parties having representatives in the NA. In order of their number of seats in the National Assembly they were the:

• African National Congress

• Democratic Party

• Inkatha Freedom Party

• United Democratic Movement

• African Christian Democratic Party, Independent Democrats, New National Party (formerly the National Party) – each with seven seats

• Freedom Front Plus

• Pan Africanist Party, United Christian Democratic Party – each with three seats

• Minority Front

• Azanian People’s Organisation

This number increased by the end of the third democratic Parliament’s term – because of floor-crossing legislation, which has since been scrapped.

The 1999 election yielded 13 political parties with enough votes to secure National Assembly seats. In order of their number of seats in the National Assembly, they were the:

• African National Congress

• Democratic Party

• Inkatha Freedom Party

• New National Party (formerly the National Party)

• United Democratic Movement

Another eight smaller parties received enough votes to secure seats. These were the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front, the United Christian Democratic Party, the Pan Africanist Congress, the Federal Alliance, the Minority Front, the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging and the Azanian People’s Organisation.

The first non-racial democratic election in 1994 resulted in seven parties having representation in the National Assembly. These seven, in order of their number of National Assembly seats, were the:

• African National Congress

• National Party

• Inkatha Freedom Party

• Freedom Front

• Democratic Party

• Pan Africanist Congress

• African Christian Democratic Party

Membership of the National Council of Provinces is determined differently to that of the National Assembly. Permanent delegates to the National Council of Provinces – six from each province – are appointed by the Provincial Legislatures. The composition of each provinces’ six permanent delegates is based on the number of seats parties secure in each legislature.

This means that all the parties represented in the National Assembly are not, automatically, also represented by the permanent delegates appointed to the National Council of Provinces.

This is why only five of the parties represented in the National Assembly were also represented in the National Council of Provinces of the fourth democratic Parliament.

The five were the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance, the Congress of the People, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Independent Democrats.

First sittings of the National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP)

After the Electoral Commission has declared the election results, the Chief Justice, or a judge assigned by the Chief Justice, sets the date and time of the first sitting of the NA. The Constitution says that this first sitting must not be more than 14 days after the election result has been declared.

At its first sitting, on 21 May, Members of the NA will elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the NA and also the President of the Republic. If there is more than one nomination for these positions, a secret ballot is conducted in the NA Chamber and the results are made known as soon as the votes have been tallied.

The Chief Justice also sets the date and time for the first sitting of the NCOP and this must take place not more than 30 days after the election results of the Provincial Legislatures have been declared.

Even though there are different time periods within which the NA and NCOP first sittings must happen, they usually take place on consecutive days. The NCOP’s first sitting is usually the day after the NA’s first sitting.

Inauguration of the President, 24 May

After his election by the NA at Parliament in Cape Town and around the time of his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 24 May, the President appoints his Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers. The appointment of these ministers provides Parliament with clarity on how many and what committees it should establish. Parliamentary committees are ordered in relation to the structure of government portfolios.

It is mainly through these committees that Parliament exercises its Constitutional roles. These include law-making, oversight over government activity, providing a forum for the public consideration of issues and facilitating public involvement in its lawmaking and other processes.

Parliament establishes its committees

It can sometimes take longer than expected to appoint the Cabinet. The Rules Committee of the NA felt this was the case in May 2004, at the beginning of the third democratic Parliament, and established 25 subject-related ad hoc committees as a temporary measure. When clarity was obtained on Cabinet portfolios, the NA Rules Committee disbanded the subject-related ad hoc committees and established 26 portfolio committees. This was in June 2004.

In the fourth democratic Parliament (2009 – 2014) there were 30 portfolio committees, which corresponded to the government departments established.

The fifth democratic Parliament will start to establish its committees in the weeks following the first sittings of the NA and NCOP.
All committee meetings are open to the public, including the media. According to our Constitution, the public, including the media, may not be excluded from committee sittings unless it is reasonable and justifiable to do so in an open and democratic society.

Different kinds of committees

Besides portfolio and select committees there are ones which are not limited to specific government portfolios.

The Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Appropriations are two such committees.

These were new committees established by the fourth democratic Parliament and have enhanced Parliament’s examination of the national budget. Their establishment was followed by the adoption of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act. This prescribes the procedure for Parliament to amend the money bills, such as the national budget. It is a requirement of the Constitution that Parliament to be able to amend money bills, not only to approve or reject them.

In line with the act, in February 2013, the Parliamentary Budget Office was launched. The Parliamentary Budget Office will provide independent, objective, and professional research, advice and analysis to Parliament on matters related to the budget and other money bills.

Another committee whose work cuts across departments is the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

This committee does not consider the advantages or disadvantages of government policy – which is a focus of portfolio and select committees. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts examines whether government spending has resulted in value for money in terms of the policies and programmes for which the money was allocated. It looks at issues of effectiveness and efficiency of spending in all government ministries and departments and statutory bodies which account to Parliament. These statutory bodies include the Institutions Supporting Democracy – the Public Protector, the Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, the Commission on Gender Equality, the Auditor-General, the Independent Electoral Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Pan-South African Language Board, the Financial and Fiscal Commission, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa and the National Youth Development Agency.

There are also joint committees, composed of members from both the NA and NCOP. These joint committees of the fourth democratic Parliament were the:

• Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence – This committee is established in terms of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act of 1994. It exercises oversight over intelligence and counter-intelligence (activities and information related to protecting a state from spying activities of foreign powers or agents) functions. The functions over which the committee caries out oversight include the administration, operations and financial management and expenditure of the National Intelligence Agency, the South African Secret Service and the Intelligence Divisions of the South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Service. Members serving on the committee take an oath of secrecy and undergo security screening to ensure that, while carrying out their oversight duties, they do not harm the work of the intelligence services. Meetings of the committee are generally closed to the public, including the media, and its minutes are not made public. The committee reports on its work to Parliament.

• Joint Standing Committee on Defence

The committee is established in terms of the Constitution (section 228 clause 3). Its job is to investigate and make recommendations about the budget functioning, organisation, armaments, policy, morale and state of preparedness of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and to carry out other functions relating to parliamentary oversight of the SANDF as may be set out by law.

• Joint Committee on Ethics and Members’ Interests

In May 1996, the first democratic Parliament introduced a Code of Ethics for Members. The Joint Committee on Ethics and Members Interests ensures that the code is carried out. It does this by requiring all Members to submit to it, once every year, details of their financial-related interests, benefits and gifts they may have received. The committee also considers submissions from the public about alleged breaches of the code. The code has been reviewed since 1996 and the revised code was tabled in the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces in March 2014.

Committees which deal with Parliamentary processes

These include the NA Rules Committee, the NCOP Rules Committee, the Joint Rules Committee, the NA Programme Committee, the NCOP Programme Committee and the Joint Programme Committee.

State of the Nation Address after the May election

This will be the first State of the Nation Address to the fifth democratic Parliament. It is expected to feature the usual ceremonial aspects. These are:

• A mounted police escort and a military ceremonial motor escort, the lining of the President’s route to Parliament by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), a red carpet at Parliament, from the Slave Lodge to the National Assembly Chamber building

• Cultural performances along the red carpet route

• Civilian participation along the walk by the President, accompanied by Parliament’s Presiding Officers and the Secretary to Parliament, from the Slave Lodge to the saluting dais in front of the National Assembly building. With the dawn of democracy in 1994, Parliament’s doors opened to all and the State of the Nation Address became a celebration of our nation, with public participation added to the State’s ceremonial activities. This is former President Nelson Mandela’s legacy to our State of the Nation Address proceedings.

• A praise singer at the entrance to the National Assembly Chamber – a tradition started in 2005

• A national salute by the Ceremonial Guard of the SANDF, a military band, a salute flight by the South African Air Force and a 21-gun salute

The national budget

The fifth democratic Parliament will debate the Budget Framework and the Appropriations Bill. These are items coming from the national budget, which the Minister of Finance presented to the fourth democratic Parliament in February this year.

In October, the Minister of Finance will present the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement to Parliament. Parliament’s committees then examine the statement and issues related to it. In the fourth democratic Parliament public hearings were held on the Revised Fiscal Framework and a plenary sitting of the National Assembly considered the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Reports from committees. These reports examined how government departments are doing in terms of using their budgets to meet their targets and goals.

The budget is a tool to achieve economic and developmental goals. It is a key part of Parliament’s oversight responsibility.

Our democracy and our democratic Parliament

Public interest and involvement in the work of Parliament is important in deepening and strengthening our democracy. As we reflect on our South Africa, 20 years after our first democratic non-racial election, there is no doubt that we could have achieved more. But, much has been achieved.

As our first democratically elected President, Nelson Mandela, said in 1995 in his Long Walk To Freedom memoir: “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road.”

– By

Author

MOST READ