At a time when the national lockdown is curbing the ability of South Africa’s provincial legislatures to perform optimally, Democracy Works Foundation (DWF), together with the Westminster Foundation of Democracy (WFD), is piloting an online engagement with members of the Provincial Legislature in the Northern Cape to help them to continue their public engagement work.
DWF works to deepen democracy and strengthen democratic institutions by supporting people, organisations and communities to participate in decision-making processes that affect them. The European Union and WFD fund a DWF project working to bridge the gap between three provincial legislatures – whose critical role to foster public participation is magnified during the pandemic – and non-profit organisations working in the poorest communities. The legislatures are the North West Province, Limpopo and Northern Cape.
“We are enormously grateful to the Public Participation Unit of the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature for their partnership in driving this innovative initiative,” says DWF South Africa programme manager Mira Dutschke. “This work, which makes it more possible for communities to bring their challenges to the legislature, is extremely significant given the extent to which communities have been suffering during COVID-19.”
The COVID-19-related emergency legislation has given the executive of each province wide-ranging powers to enable it to respond to the pandemic. This legislation has, however, not affected the mandate of legislatures to foster public participation and to provide avenues for communities to demand accountability from the province. Parliaments face pressure to quickly find innovative and cost-effective ways to meet virtually, and to engage communities, while mindful of the fact that not all communities have access to a digital world.
In response to this urgent need, WFD and DWF have developed an online engagement series to obtain a real understanding of how members of provincial legislatures conduct their work, and to use that understanding to identify ways to help the legislatures engage more effectively with the public. The intention is also to link the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature with technical support to help them take proceedings online and to conduct engagements virtually.
Following a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the DWF and the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature in November 2019, DWF and WFD are now officially included in the programme of the provincial legislature with the training set to begin the 27th of May. Communications with legislatures in the North West and Limpopo provinces are currently underway.