The Soul of South Africa’s Legislatures: A Site of Struggle – Or Not
Samantha Waterhouse (University of the Western Cape)

The Constitution envisages that legislatures play a critical role in our democracy. Their law making, oversight and accountability functions should follow, indeed be directed by, their core purpose – to ensure government based on the will of the people, by representing the public and acting as forums for public consideration of issues. At heart, these ‘issues’ must address inequality and discriminations against the majority of people in South Africa. I focus on how the democratic soul envisaged for legislatures in our Constitution, has been (re)defined through practice. While noticing the ways they add value, I consider legislatures; evident ineffectiveness to hold executive power in check; the apparent dominance of party leadership structures in defining the outcomes of legislatures’ processes; and the telling ease with which they embraced their back-seat role under the National State of Disaster. In our multi-party democracy, legislatures are designed as a site of struggle. I reflect on the wider range of actors with a stake in the legislatures and the features of struggles that play out on that ground. How do the evolved terms of engagement enable or gatekeep against ‘publics’? And, who is struggling for the legislatures’ democratic ‘soul’? Drawing on work undertaken among civil society groups, I consider our attempts to expand the range of who draws on legislatures to advance social justice. Here the questions organisations have grappled with are not only why should we engage legislatures, and on whose terms, but also, why we shouldn’t.