Wed. Nov 20th, 2019

The purpose and function of South Africa’s National Assembly

South Africa's parliamentThe most important House in South Africa.

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The dust has settled after a contentious political battle for power in the recent general elections. Now, the 12 political parties that made into the National Assembly will have to find a way to use their differences to reach consensus on the right direction to take in bringing transformation in the lives of South Africans.

On Tuesday, members of the sixth incoming Parliament huddled up at the Houses of Parliament to register themselves on the eve of the first sitting.

Related: Election results 2019: Here’s who made it to the National Assembly

The process of forming a National Assembly

In the first National Assembly gathering after the elections — and four days before the president’s inauguration — it is the duty of Parliament to elect a Speaker.

This official has the status of a Cabinet minister and his or her duties are wide-ranging. Once a Speaker has been elected, it is his or her duty to recruit a deputy Speaker and three House Chairpersons.

This will be his or her entourage for the duration of the sixth Parliament, fending off any misconduct and ensuring that whips (political party functionaries) maintain and uphold best practices in parliamentary business.

Related: When you can expect Ramaphosa to announce his new cabinet

Although we may enjoy a full assembly every now and then, since we have grown accustomed to the drama that ensues, often perpetrated by the left (the section of the assembly that houses the opposition), it is not as common an occurrence as some may think.

The main functions of Parliament

Much of the work done by Parliament is funnelled through the efforts of committees. Each ministry of government has a corresponding portfolio committee that reports regularly on their respective activities.

“The composition of the committees reflects, as far as is practicable, the numerical strengths of the parties represented in the Assembly. That committee will deliberate on bills covering that department’s area of jurisdiction and scrutinise and report on its annual budget and strategic plan.

“As the people’s representatives, members of the committees determine whether government departments are delivering on what they promised and whether they are spending the public money they receive in a responsible manner.”

Related: Six things you can expect from South Africa’s sixth Parliament

Besides gathering for full sittings or plenaries on portfolio committee reports, the House can also gather for events like Member statements, statements by Cabinet ministers, Private Members legislative Proposals and Questions to the president and ministers.

This process is exclusive to the National Assembly. The National Council of Provinces is an extension of Parliament and its process is overseen by its respective provincial legislatures.

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