IN DEFENCE OF CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY (DECODE): Parliament as the cornerstone of public participation

The Institute for African Alternatives (IFAA) will launch a new project this year, “In Defence of Constitutional Democracy: Parliament as the Cornerstone of Public Participation” or “Decode”. This will be funded by the Australian government and run for 10 months, until December 2023.

IFAA’s initiative should be placed in the context of civil society outrage at the disastrous Electoral Amendment Bill which cynically threatens to distort the outcome of the 2020 Constitutional Court ruling in New Nation Movement NPC and others v President of the Republic and others. It also comes amid mounting public demand for incorporation of a form of constituency-based representation within the electoral system and the widespread breakdown of trust and confidence in Parliament.

IFAA’s project is intended as support for the widespread civil society mobilisation for effective people-centred, representative democracy and for that reason we would welcome the opportunity to consult with your organisation. Your advice and input would be much appreciated and the resources we have would be made available for joint action. We sincerely hope our initiative can be incorporated into the broader effort.

The project aims to build understanding of and commitment to the constitutionally determined role of MPs. The chief goal will be to contribute to the current efforts by civil society to educate and mobilise citizens around what can and must be expected from elected representatives.

IFAA aims to engage with the urgent need for parliamentarians to revise their collective understanding of what it means to work within a democratic framework that places voters’ demands above those of a party. It also aims to address the need for civil society to effectively demand accountability from their democratically elected representatives.

It is sincerely hoped that this initiative will help contribute to rebuilding trust and confidence in Parliament within the broader public.

Proposed activities

The “In Defence of Constitutional Democracy” initiative proposes the following activities:

  • A roundtable discussion between MPs, parliamentary advisory/support staff and civil society stakeholders on Parliament’s role in conducting oversight effectively and in good faith. June/July 2023
  • Three civil society workshops, specifically targeting youth, to address what citizens may and/or should demand of their elected representatives. April; July; October 2023
  • A consultative conference based on discussions and issues that emerge out of the above interactions, to reflect on parliamentary oversight and the needs/demands of voters. October 2023
  • A Citizens’ Charter to drive public participation in Parliament and the electoral process, possibly for ratification at the conference.

Guided by Zondo

This project is also a response to the scathing finding of the Zondo Commission that held the national legislature, and more particularly its committee system, responsible for allowing the scourge of state capture by failing in its cardinal – and constitutional – duty to exercise oversight over the Executive branch of government, including organs of state and state-owned enterprises.

As you are aware, the Zondo report highlighted the urgent need for parliamentary reform, to enable committees to do their work more effectively. It saw the need for committees to be capacitated to follow up on the questions they put to government departments; address late submission (and non-submission) of reports requested of government departments; and assert their authority in the face of no-shows or tardy delivery by Ministers and others called before portfolio committees. Zondo considered such omissions to be so critical to committees’ ability to conduct oversight that he asked in his report if Parliament ought to consider “whether there is a need to legislate to address these issues”.

Chief Justice Zondo repeatedly made the point that political parties have far too much power and influence over their MPs and asked whether Parliament should “enact legislation which protects Members of Parliament from losing their party membership (and therefore their seats In Parliament) merely for exercising their oversight duties reasonably and in good faith”.  

Also of interest is Zondo’s reference to the need to consider whether the electoral system should be amended to allow for a mixed electoral system comprising both constituency-based and proportional representation.


IFAA strongly endorses the work being conducted by civil society to galvanise widespread support for electoral reform of this kind. We hope our effort will be regarded – and accepted – as a small contribution to this critical national effort.

IFAA endorsed the joint submission on the Electoral Amendment Bill by the Rivonia Circle, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Defend our Democracy and others presented to the National Council of Provinces last year, in which it was stated: “Our current electoral system no longer meets the needs of ordinary people who wish to be more directly involved in our still fledgling democracy”.

IFAA wishes to consult broadly among current stakeholders and hopes to take its place alongside the esteemed civil society organisations that are already doing excellent work in this field.

Submitted by Moira Levy, Media Manager, Institute for African Alternatives, on 12 February 2023

IFAA thanks the Australian High Commission for supporting this project

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