The close of 2019 also concluded year two of the Democracy Works Foundation (DWF)’s project to support improved engagement between provincial legislatures and marginalised communities in South Africa, specifically in the areas of public health and safety.
The South African Civil Society Organisation in Provincial Legislature project (SACPPL), run in partnership with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and with co-funding from the European Union, is operating in the provinces of Limpopo, North West, and Northern Cape.
South Africa’s most marginalised communities face major obstacles in engaging their elected representatives about their challenges. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play a vital role in helping communities to attain this democratic right but many lack the skills and resources to do so effectively.
2019 was a year of many positives for the project. SACPPL made exciting strides in strengthening the participation of CSOs in processes of the Provincial Legislature and in bridging the gaps between CSOs and members of parliament.
The year’s highlights began in March with a cross-provincial workshop in which representatives from organisations from all three provinces gathered in Johannesburg to share their knowledge and perceptions of the Provincial Legislatures, as well as experiences of prior interactions. This completed a needs assessment process conducted in the first year of the project. The workshop revealed that on the whole, participating CSOs had limited knowledge about the role, procedures, and mandates of the Provincial Legislatures. This fact coupled with resource constraints and geographical distances from the legislatures were the biggest deterrents to the participation of CSOs in processes of the Provincial Legislature.
The findings of the March 2019 workshop provided a comprehensive baseline of the needs and skills of the CSOs which are part of the project. The findings also offered a practical framework to guide the development of a learning programme to address their knowledge and skills, with the aim of improving interactions with Provincial Legislatures.
The information gleaned through the March process was at the heart of a second cross-provincial workshop in May 2019, in which CSOs from all three provinces gathered in Johannesburg to learn more about the opportunities that legislatures present for greater participation in government processes, and how to use this platform to allow community voices to be heard.
The workshop focused on distinguishing the difference between the three spheres of government, identifying opportunities for public participation in the areas of health and public safety, and understanding the value of oversight and public participation in improving state responsiveness. The workshop concluded with CSOs identifying challenges in their work and communities which they could take to the Provincial Legislatures.
In the second half of 2019, the SACSPPL team continued to support, mentor and guide CSOs wishing to raise their issues with the Provincial Legislatures.
A number of engagements demonstrated the effectiveness of this process.
- In August, the Ritavi Victim Empowerment Centre (a partner CSO based in Limpopo) played a crucial role in organising a community Imbizo in Dan Village, Tzaneen, in response to the gangsterism in the area. The Imbizo was a collaboration between members of the Limpopo Provincial Legislature, the Ministry of Police and the Provincial Executive. This resulted in strategies being devised for civil society and the police to work hand-in-hand in combating the challenge.
- In September, the SACSPPL team accompanied three partner CSOs from Limpopo (Treatment Action Campaign, Basic Education for All and Ritavi Victim Empowerment Centre) to the Provincial Legislature to submit petitions on the issues they raised in the May workshop. After the CSOs had exhausted all other avenues in addressing these issues, they developed petitions to submit to the Provincial Legislature in Lebowakgomo. The petitions addressed issues including medication stockout in local clinics, the bad conditions of victim empowerment rooms in police stations, and the poorly regulated trade of liquor in Dan Village Tzaneen.
- This momentum continued in the Northern Cape, where CSPPL staff accompanied a further two organisations (Oasis Skills Centre and Love Life) to the provincial legislature to submit petitions. These petitions dealt with a lack of special needs schools in Upington and a lack of funding support for CSOs working in HIV prevention in the province.
CSOs in the three provinces have started making headway in building solid relationships with Provincial Legislatures. Year three of the project (2020), promises great collaborations between CSOs and members of the Provincial Legislatures. The project is on track in ensuring improved CSO participation in the oversight and accountability processes of the Provincial Legislature.