Project 1: Democracy & Governance
1.1. Political Comment and Analysis
The key task in this sub-theme is to try to make sense of political developments through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, and to help Church leadership to improve its own understanding of the role it plays in promoting and protecting the democratic order. Following and analyzing the struggle within the governing party between the reformers and the corrupt continues to be an important aspect of this sub-theme.
As we head towards the 2024 national and provincial elections there is more and more talk about coalitions. It is possible that, for the first time in our democratic era, the ANC will fall below 50% of the vote nationally, and almost certain that it will do so in Gauteng and some other provinces. This means that it will have to seek support and partnership from one or more of the smaller parties; in turn, this could bring about major changes in policies and in the balance of political power in different parts of the country. It will also, hopefully, bring about more accountability in government.
1.2. Good Governance
In June 2022 the Zondo Commission into State Capture delivered its report. Among its numerous recommendations were a few concerning Parliament – that the institution needed to strengthen its oversight mechanisms regarding the presidency and the executive. There is not much evidence that Parliament has taken this seriously, and the separation of powers between the legislature and the executive remains skewed in favour of the latter.
Institutionalised corruption is still a major problem, even though President Ramaphosa has taken some steps to address the problem. The election to the Deputy-Presidency of Paul Mashatile is seen as a potential threat to anti-corruption efforts, since his own long history is tainted with accusations of corruption and patronage. Some observers expect that, soon after the 2024 elections, some factions in ANC will move to replace Mr Ramaphosa with Mr Mashatile.
Also under this heading, we will monitor moves to improve the governance of State-Owned Enterprises, especially Eskom and Transnet (freight rail), both of which have been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that they threaten the viability of the economy.
1.3. Institutions Serving Democracy
Parliament, the Courts, the statutory commissions on human rights, gender, cultural and language rights, the Public Protector, the National Prosecuting Authority – all these institutions and a number of others serve to uphold and promote democracy. Some of these institutions survived the years of state capture more or less intact, but others were severely damaged. It is vital that civil society monitors the condition of these institutions and supports efforts to restore them to good health. At the same time, civil society must also exert pressure when they fail to carry out their mandates.
2024 will see a new Public Protector assume office, after the disastrous tenure of Adv Busisiwe Mkhwebane since 2016 – she attempted to turn the office of the PP into an instrument favouring radical, and in some cases unconstitutional, economic transformation. It will be crucial for the new incumbent to restore the reputation of this important body. We will also analyse the performance of the Independent Electoral Commission, which will run the 2024 national and provincial elections, as well as the 2026 local government elections.
Regarding the judiciary, over the next two or three years we are likely to see a drawn out process of impeachment of two judges for gross misconduct. No judge has ever been impeached before in SA, so it is vital that these procedures are constitutionally sound and carried out, as far as possible, without undue political interference. They will be an important test of the constitutional mechanisms for dealing with such delicate and contested matters.
1.4. Parliamentary Presence
South Africa’s Parliament is an open institution. It is constitutionally prescribed that meetings of the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and, most importantly, the various committees of the two houses, must be open to the public. This is a vital part of keeping government accountable and transparent. However, if the public or those organizations that claim to speak on behalf of significant constituencies, such as the Church, do not take advantage of this openness, it will surely begin to disappear. Therefore, CPLO makes a point of attending committee meetings and sittings of the Assembly even when we are not making a formal submission. This not only demonstrates the interest we have in the activities of Parliament, it also provides many opportunities for informal contact and engagement.
In January 2022 a large part of the parliamentary precinct was destroyed in a fire, and this has made it much more difficult for civil society groups like ourselves to maintain a physical presence there. Most committee meetings take place virtually, and there is limited space for members of the public in the alternative venues used for major speeches and events. Nevertheless, we will try to interact wherever possible with committees and individual MPs, and we will continue to make written and oral submissions whenever suitable opportunities arise.