March 10, 2005

The IFP has always maintained that tradition and democracy are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. Our constitutional proposals for KwaZulu-Natal, particularly our bicameral provincial parliament, present a formidable attempt to offer the best of both worlds for the benefit of the people of this province.

Accordingly, our draft constitution seeks wide consensus across the province and its political spectrum. It is through the two legislative chambers which we propose that we find the best catalyst for expressing this consensus in political terms. We propose to bring the provincial government closer to our people by consulting as wide spectrum of opinion as possible and by reaching further than the conventional system of elected representatives allows.

Firstly, our draft bolsters the notion of separation of powers between the provincial executive and KwaZulu-Natal parliament by introducing new checks and balances. We strive to reshape provincial government by shifting the weight of the executive power from the Premier to the Cabinet as a collegial body.

Secondly, the IFP draft re-establishes the centrality of the existing parliament, which it calls the House of Assembly. By reconciling democratic institutions with tradition, we introduce a second legislative chamber, House of Representatives, appointed by municipal councils, traditional leaders, universities, art and cultural associations, trade unions, and interests groups.

Ultimately, our draft aims for co-operative governance within the province by promoting the co-operation between government, traditional leaders and municipalities on an equitable footing.

Why do we propose all this? The 1996 Constitution of South Africa gives us the freedom to adopt a constitution which can reshape, in any way it wishes, the executive structures, executive procedures, legislative structures and legislative procedures of our province.

The IFP has grasped this opportunity and formulated its draft constitution based on these four areas to give our province a much better government, one which is more consonant to its needs, features and characteristics. 

We can improve on the quality of parliamentary democracy in KwaZulu Natal and ought not to fail to do so. Because of the composition of the House of Representatives, the power of initiating legislation and other parliamentary activities, such as resolutions, is given to entities other than the elected representatives, for instance the municipalities, universities, chambers of commerce, the House of Traditional Leaders, trade unions and newly created entities, such as the Consumer Protection Commission, cultural councils and the Regulatory Commission.

We in the IFP feel that this is a great leap forward in broadening the bases and reach of our democracy. The evil of centralisation may take hold also within the relationship between the legislature and its executive, and we ought to avoid it. 

The elected political representatives are those who should be in power and the executive should have the function of executing that which is decided by those who are elected through law or policies. Accordingly, we provided for many features which establish the centrality and primacy of Parliament, such as the provision which gives equal powers to each member of Parliament of introducing legislation without exclusions in respect of money Bills. We also make provision for the elimination of the three year moratorium which is now in place on the exercise of a vote of no confidence against the Premier or his Cabinet. 

We are also strengthening the provisions relating to the powers of our legislature, to exercise its oversight role by giving it some hard and sharp teeth, such as the power to appoint a special counsel to be funded by the province who can conduct parliamentary investigations, and the provision for parliamentary commissions of enquiry. In many other countries these are the instruments which have enabled parliaments to keep their monitoring brief on government.  

Our House of Representatives should reflect the diverse composition of interests in the province and substantially add to, and improve on, the principle of elected representation.

Even where, as in KwaZulu-Natal, there are different political parties, each consists of people who have dedicated their life to politics, and are often professional politicians. The IFP contends that democracy can be more than elected representation. The House of Representatives will bring into the mainstream decision-making people with different perspectives, thereby bridging the ever widening gap between the political world and the rest of our society. This type of innovation places us at the forefront of worldwide constitutionalism.

We also introduced a provision preventing elected members of the Legislature from crossing the floor. In principle, the IFP has been firmly against the notion that a representative elected on a party list may cross the floor from one political party to the other. We find this immoral, as those elected are chosen by their own parties rather than by the people in a constituency system. We know that the people of South Africa feel the same.

In tune with the idea of redistributing power, our proposal places the ordinary seat of one chamber of Parliament in Ulundi and the second in Pietermaritzburg. This creates a compromise in the thorny diatribe of Ulundi versus Pietermaritzburg, which has divided our province and created the perception that different political parties care more about certain sections of our population than others. In addition, we suggested that the ordinary seat of Cabinet be in Durban.

The constitution-drafting process, of which our draft is an important part, should have two additional functions. Firstly, it should offer the opportunity to give our people what they really want in respect of the important issues, reversing what politicians have done for politicians’ sake. Secondly, it should offer an opportunity for re-evaluating what in the ten year old national Constitution can be varied from, or improved upon, where this is permissible.

The issue of crossing of the floor is significant in respect of both these aspects. It must be remembered that the national Constitution has thus far been breached in respect of its own provision for calling for its annual review. This has never happened in practice. With a solid, people-centred provincial constitution in KwaZulu-Natal, it might.

Contact: Dr Lionel Mtshali, 083 256 4902