Ensuring citizen participation in the making of decisions concerning service delivery and the development of policies that address challenges faced by the people of Gauteng is a top responsibility of the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL). The GPL pulls out all the stops to deliver on this mandate in a manner that impacts all generations, genders and society classes — thus ensuring that all people of Gauteng can experience a legislature that cares about their needs.
The National Development Plan of South Africa defines a desired destination and identifies the role that different sectors of society must play to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. According to the plan, South Africa can realise these goals by drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society.
The GPL remains aligned to this vision by exercising its duties as a law-maker (for the province) and a service delivery watchdog to constantly create opportunities that allow the youth to contribute to decision-making. This acknowledges that when the youth are actively involved in processes that are aimed at improving their living conditions, they are empowered to lobby their elected members of the provincial legislature (MPLs) to initiate legislation that is in their best interest. It is an opportunity for them to partner with the GPL to ensure that government departments in the province prioritise the youth in their employment policies and procurement spend.
This effort is also being bolstered by the increasing number of young MPLs joining the GPL as elected public representatives. These are men and women who are younger than 35 and in various positions of leadership in committees of the House, as well as other structures. According to speaker of the legislature, Ntombi Mekgwe, this has “injected fresh energy into the legislature, with young parliamentarians themselves driving change and providing today’s youth [with] solutions to today’s youth challenges”. She adds that this change augurs well for the legislature’s goal “to remain a dynamic and relevant legislature”.
One of the platforms created by the legislative system to elevate youth issues and place them firmly at the centre of the legislature’s business is the annual Youth Sector Parliament. This is a platform where the youth debate and come up with recommendations to address challenges facing them. The platform also strengthens interaction between the youth and policymakers, for a policy regime that is cognisant of real issues facing the province and to remove unnecessary snags. The Youth Sector Parliament is one among a few GPL sector parliaments that serve as recognised platforms for various sectors of the Gauteng society to give the legislature oversight mandate on matters that the executive should deliver on. Other sector parliaments convened by the GPL include: the ones for women; senior citizens; children; workers; commercial sex workers; people with disabilities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual or ally and other non-heterosexual people.
Other mass public participation processes include committee hearings on law-making, oversight and an array of programmes that have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the people of Gauteng. These create space for the involvement of citizens in legislative business, while establishing a process by which citizens can petition the GPL to put systems in place for the province to function as expected.Mekgwe says: “There can never be effective executive oversight without input from the population of the province. By enabling the youth to participate, a foundation has been laid for better legislative oversight, a fundamental contribution to social stability, as well as the use of political processes to resolve problems related to building a democratic society in Gauteng.”
“It is through continuous interaction with the public that we get to know what the electorate expects from the government — and identify areas where implementation of policy and legislation are inadequate, and remedy them as necessary,” she adds.
With Gauteng being among the provinces hardest hit by the third wave of infections — and the country having imposed lockdowns to contain the spread of Covid-19 — Mekgwe acknowledges the impact that this has had on the youth. “While this has not been a situation unique to us South Africans, the impact of lockdown is undeniable. Add to that the opportunistic theft and corruption by public officials, rising incidents of gender-based violence and everything else in between, our youth have really been dealt the worst end of the stick.” But she assures Gauteng youths that the GPL will never rest on its laurels in seeking lasting solutions to prevalent challenges. “The legislature continues to set targets for the provincial government and its entities to tackle these challenges. We [will] continue assessing government partnerships, with one of the desired goals being to facilitate the process of the provincial government securing sufficient funding and mentorship for the youth to run their businesses and create employment,” she adds.