Source: The Democratic Alliance
Title: DA: Mazibuko: Address by the DA Parlaimentary leader, at the launch of the Palriamentary Institute of South Africa, Cape Town
Note to editors: The following is an extract from a speech to be delivered by DA Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko MP, at the official launch of the Parliamentary Institute of South Africa in Cape Town today.
"The people shall govern."
These were the words of the Freedom Charter which defined the aspirations of so many South Africans during the fight against injustice and discrimination.
It was these words which gave hope to those who were disenfranchised and oppressed; which inspired many great women and men before us to work tirelessly towards the attainment a better life for every citizen in this country. Indeed, it is this very struggle from which many in my generation have had the privilege to benefit today.
For many South Africans, 1994, and the establishment of our first democratic Parliament, was the realisation of this dream. Parliament was seen to be reflective of the people, with all their hopes, fears, dream and aspirations built into its very foundations. The people were to be its conscience.
This week, however, and not for the first time, we saw this vision dismantled, as Parliament became an instrument with which those in power showed their contempt for the people who elected them to high office. The arrogance of power was plain for all to see. The Protection of State Information Bill - like the legislation which disbanded the Scorpions - moved one step closer towards becoming yet another tool to conceal power abuse from the public.
As South Africans gathered outside the gates of Parliament, the overwhelming calls of ‘NO’ fell on deaf ears, and the majority of representatives voted ‘YES’.
It was a case of Parliament against the people.
This disjuncture between parliament and the electorate it is intended to represent not only inspires a lack of confidence in the institution, but in the principle of democracy itself. It causes people to question the intentions and integrity of their representatives. It pushes citizens out of the public gallery, instead of inviting them in.
And it leads them to ask that hope-killing question: why should I vote?
This is not merely a disjuncture in political ideology. It is a disjuncture between our citizens' hopes and aspirations for a better future, and the mechanisms which are supposed to enable them to achieve it. If we allow that bridge to collapse, we force South Africans to find a crossing elsewhere.
Our constitutional negotiators created a system of checks and balances which provided for a legislative process which is robust. Parliament, through its rules - although not perfect - has the potential to be a place of vibrant interactions, with committees bustling with enthusiasm, ideas and innovation. Motions can be debated frequently and with passion, questions answered with honesty, and accountability ensured at all times without negotiation. Our Assembly can be the centre of rigorous debate.
It can be a parliament both for the people and by the people.
Our colleagues in the ANC, Honourable Ben Turok and Gloria Borman, demonstrated this very principle in the House on Tuesday. They chose freedom and the Constitution above secrecy and censorship. They did what they were elected to do.
The Constitution does not enjoin MPs to toe the party line. It obliges them to oversee and scrutinise the executive – no matter which political party they represent.
It is sad that the Honourable Turok and Borman have been placed under pressure to reverse their positions by the ANC's party bosses. They had an opportunity to show the ANC and South Africa that there are still individuals in the governing party – like Andrew Feinstein, Kader Asmal and Pregs Govender before them – who refuse to be bullied.
To make Parliament the vibrant institution it needs to be, we need to shift the balance of power from the hands of party bosses to those of the people, where it belongs.
And we need a series of practical steps to make this happen:
First and foremost, we must recognise and address the main problem. While Parliament may be structured on rules, its ultimate success or failure is determined by the men and women who walk through its corridors, deliberate in its committees and debate in its chambers. If they are unwilling or unable to put the people before the party, then Parliament cannot be an effective oversight body.
There are institutional changes which would go a long way towards encouraging MPs to put the people first.
The Report of the Independent Panel Assessment of Parliament chaired by former ANC MP, Pregs Govender, is key to achieving this. It sets out a number of recommendations to maximize accountability and the effectiveness of Parliament.
Amongst these is the introduction of a mixed electoral system which would ensure both proportionality and a direct link between MPs and the people they serve. Under such a system, constituency MPs vote against the people risk being voted out of office. They are held to account by the people and not by the party.
The governing party is resistant to such a proposal because it would take power away from party bosses and put it in the hands of the people. And that is why the report – which was co-authored by the Honourable Max Sisulu himself – is gathering dust.
Parliament must become the centre of debate and policy formation in South Africa. The recent calls for an economic CODESA, in the context of public debates about radical changes in South Africa’s economic policies, baffled me. There is already a CODESA. Parliament is the constituent assembly that emerged from CODESA. And so Parliament must be the stage where these issues are debated. It must be where policy is negotiated, in earnest, by the people’s representatives.
But this requires political will and determination, a commitment to the Constitution and its principles, and a passion for innovation and solutions to address the many challenges our people face today. And it requires that we actually have the debates, in our committees and in our chambers.
We must initiate our own legislation. Our Private Members Bills must be seriously considered. Our requests for debates of public importance and urgent public importance, accepted; our notices of motion, debated frequently, and our sittings, made more rigorous through interpellations and oral questions sessions in which the questions we ask are answered.
It is a poor reflection on Parliament that our members propose hundreds of motions a year, and we are fortunate if but a few materialise into debates. This must change. We are elected to discuss, debate and deliberate on issues as well as legislate and perform oversight. If we do not do this, we cannot claim to have the people as our conscience.
Ladies and gentleman,
Black Tuesday was an epoch-defining moment in South Africa; not only for our Constitution, and the freedoms it entrenches, but also for our Parliament.
As hundreds of people marched outside our gates, and watched with baited breath from the public gallery, they sought reassurance that their voices would be heard. But despite the clamour at the gates, and the petitions, and the letters and the marches, they were failed by a political majority which no longer operates with the people as its conscience.
The time has come for the remaining brave men and women in Parliament - and there many across all political parties - to take the lead and rebuild an institution which the people of this country can believe in. We are the ones who must build the necessary bridges. We can be the people’s voice. And we can act in South Africa's best interest.
This is the Parliament that we should all commit to creating today.