The Speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has urged Makana Local Municipality learners to participate in law making, as the laws passed in Parliament derive their legitimacy from meaningful public participation. “We seek to deepen that legitimacy by ensuring that even children and youth become part of the mainstream in parliamentary processes and activities,” she said.

Ms Mapisa-Nqakula spoke during the opening of a two-day Back-to-School outreach programme in her Parliamentary Constituency Office (PCO) in Makhanda yesterday. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on people’s livelihoods, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula recognised, and denied the public its constitutional right of involvement and participation in parliamentary law-making processes.

The pandemic complicated an already challenging situation, she went on to say, as research into the impact of parliamentary programmes showed lower levels of awareness and engagement, particularly among the 15 to 24 age group. In response to this challenge, and “As a responsive and caring institution that is sensitive to the needs of all the people, we have agreed and decided to embark on this programme that targets grade 11 and 12 learners,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula explained.  

The two-day programme forms part of Parliament’s outreach to the people to strengthen South Africa's participatory democracy and to accelerate the development of the people, particularly children and young people, who carry the hopes for the nation’s future.

The Speaker acknowledged that for the first time since 1994, all districts in the Eastern Cape recorded pass rates above 65%, despite learners losing more than half their teaching time in 2020/21 because of the pandemic. “The province showed significant improvement in its pass rate. To bring Parliament closer to the people, foster participation and ensure that the youth understand how Parliament works, the outreach programme will focus on their development and their physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual well-being,” she said.

In explaining the purpose of the outreach programme, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said: “Ultimately, this initiative is to see a progressive improvement in the pass rate and celebrate the significant improvements in the 2021 academic year in the Eastern Cape. Notably, the outreach seeks to address challenges that inhibit youths' realisation of their full potential in the area and find workable solutions.” Furthermore, the Makhanda constituency office will continue to serve as a grassroots node for engagement of young people.

Other objectives of the PCO outreach programme, include the creation of sustainable partnerships between important stakeholders in the Makhanda PCO; to involve youth and learners in identifying their needs; and becoming agents in identifying and closing the gaps preventing them from reaching their full potential; and to encourage youth and communities to dream and envision a future beyond their current reality.  

Parliament constantly develops and maintains systems that enable Members of Parliament in all communities to have dynamic contact with South Africans and PCOs are one of those systems, Ms Mapisa-Nqakula reminded her listeners. “These offices are strategic points of the people-parliament interface, as they play an essential role in communities. They are the first point of contact for people on the ground by providing reliable and accurate information on what is happening in Parliament and how Parliament is representing you,” she said.

She told learners that Members of Parliament are assigned to constituencies by their political parties, even though they are not elected from geographic areas like ward councillors are in local government elections. MPs are meant to use constituency offices to provide the public with assistance in accessing services, such as social grants, housing and health, and should be a mechanism to report back to the communities on what is happening in Parliament.

According to Ms Mapisa-Nqakula, Parliament annually allocates over R500 million to political parties to enable effective constituency work and structured its programme to ensure heightened citizen engagement. Mondays are set aside as constituency work days, the Speaker explained. This enables MPs to extend their constituency visits over weekends to better serve their constituencies. Constituency weeks are also included in the parliamentary programme.

“It is against this background, therefore, that we have embarked on a programme of reimagining, remodelling and repurposing PCOs as grassroots extensions of our democratic Parliament. We have a responsibility to ensure they are fully functional and operational for all citizens to derive progressively better returns on their investment.”

Ms Mapisa-Nqakula also launched her PCO yesterday, where she assured the people of her constituency that she will address the issues her constituency has brough to her attention.

Mava Lukani
12 April 2022