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South Africa: Engaging people to share their experiences on impact of laws

Dec 16, 2016

"We are here to listen and take notes so that we can integrate your experiences into the final report,” Kgalema Motlanthe said at the Free State hearing.

Since August 2016, South Africans have had the chance to participate in public hearings about how laws passed since 1994, the first year of the African National Congress government, have affected their lives.

The forums are organised by the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, chaired by South Africa’s former President Kgalema Motlanthe.

The Panel aims to assess whether national policies are working well, and when all the public hearings are completed, problematic laws could be repealed or amended based on what the population says.

Information about the public hearings and where they are to be convened is disseminated widely by the Provincial Legislatures Public Outreach Programme including through news outlets and on social media. The public hearings can be accessed and watched afterwards on the Parliament’s YouTube channel.

The first hearing was held in the Eastern Cape Province during 16–17 August, where more than 2,000 people attended who wanted to express their opinions about current laws. Some participants expressed concern, for example, about problems with service delivery in their communities and nepotism in government institutions.

UNDP in South Africa is providing funding for 12 months, technical guidance, and research assistance to the Parliament for the forums; to help the panel to do its part for the National Development Plan goals, promote citizen participation, and to strengthen the legislative capacity of the Parliament.

Public hearings have also taken place in the Northern Cape, Free State, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Gauteng and Western Cape. Another three hearings will be held later this year and in early 2017 in the rest of the nine provinces.

The hearings focus on poverty, unemployment, inequalities and land reform, as well as social cohesion and rural development. During the hearing in Free State on 6 October, people expressed their opinions about girls’ rights and naming places in South Africa.

“We have cultural practices like ukuthwala, girl abduction for early marriage and ukuhlola, virginity testing for girls only. We always argue that, if these practices were alright, why aren’t they performed on boys too? I therefore request this high panel to look at such issues and make sure that our girl children are protected and are able to enjoy their human rights too,” said Sixolile Ngcobo from the Commission for Gender Equality.

Panel encouraging more people to participate

Other members of the High Level Panel include former Cabinet Minister Brigitte Mabandla, former Auditor General Terence Nombembe, former South African Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Secretariat of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) Professor Eddy Maloka, Senior Researcher Dr Aninka Claassens and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Judge Navi Pillay.

“We are here to listen and take notes so that we can integrate your experiences into the final report,” Panel Chairperson Kgalema Motlanthe said at the Free State hearing. “Our preliminary report is expected in March 2017 and the other will be submitted in June 2017, and they will then be made public.”

The panel was appointed by the Speakers’ Forum, a structure of the South African Parliament and the Provincial legislatures, following the legacy report of the 4th Parliament, which ended in 2014. The report stated that there was a need for assessment of the quality of legislation that has been passed since 1994. The panel has extended the deadline for the submissions to 31 March 2017 to encourage more people to participate.