December 02, 2020

Question Time provides few answers

One of Parliament’s chief objectives is oversight of the executive, and one of the primary tools it uses to achieve this is Question Time.

Questions for oral or written reply can be put to the President, the Deputy President and Ministers, and gives Members of Parliament the opportunity to monitor the Government’s service delivery. However, much of the time the answers leave South Africans with more questions and few answers. Here is a small sample.

M S F de Freitas (DA) asked the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services “(a) what is the total number of cases of (i) child abuse and (ii) child murder that have been recorded in each province and (b) of those cases, how many have led to successful convictions in each province in the past three financial years?”


Given South Africa’s shocking statistics on child abuse, the reply is really worrying because it turns out that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has no way of knowing which victims of abuse and murder are children. Neither did the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, until it started rolling out an Integrated Case Management System at the Children’s Court in April 2017.

But as a data collection tool it fails. All we can know is what is registered in the Children’s Court. And we are told that between April and September 2017 there were 5,566 cases involving child abuse across the country but of these 82% did not specify the type of abuse. Most of those identified were cases of Deliberate Neglect (696) and 63 sexual abuse cases reached the court. It sounds like the Children’s Court is marooned on the very tip of the child abuse iceberg.

S P Mhlongo (EFF) asked the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans “Whether (a) her department and/or (b) any entity reporting to her own land; if so, in each case, (i) where is each plot of land located, (ii) what is the size of each specified plot and (iii) what is each plot currently being used for?”


The Department does indeed own some land, to the value of R16,982,074,959.15, and not all of it is used for military bases. The Department owns a reservoir, a parking lot, quite a few monuments, at least 10 places of worship, cemeteries, and a lot of vacant plots, which is nice to know in the run-up to the implementation of land restitution.

The Department of Defence is the custodian of the Defence Endowment Property Portfolio with the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans appointed as the trustee with ultimate ownership responsibility for all endowment property. The Department of Defence reports on and discloses this portfolio in its annual financial statements.

Mr Z N Mbhele (DA) asked the Minister of Police “Whether any police officer that is working at each police station in the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, has a criminal record; if so, in each case, what are the (a) full names, (b) rank, (c) unit and (d) crime(s) for which the officer was convicted?


A count showed 57 police officers in this Unit have criminal records. Actually 56 – one was convicted twice on the same charge. Mostly it’s just common and garden charges such as driving under the influence, or reckless and negligent driving. There were a couple of charges of fraud and theft, but it’s the 19 who were found guilty of assault and the two culpable homicides who should perhaps be transferred, or retired.

Prof B Bozzoli (DA) asked the Minister of Higher Education and Training about the amount of debt owed to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) by drop-outs. “(a) [W]hat is the total number of students who dropped out whose debt adds up to R4,002 billion, (b) of this number, how many dropped out due to (i) academic exclusion, (ii) financial exclusion and (iii) other reasons, (c) what proportion of the debt owed by drop-outs has been repayable for (i) less than three years and (ii) more than three years, (d) what amount of the drop-out debt has [been] (i) prescribed and (ii) been written off and (e) whether each amount has been included in the total amount of debt owed to NSFAS by drop-outs?


The reply was somewhat vague in that NSFAS concerns itself with only three categories of students in the loan management system: “studying”, “graduate” or “dropout”, and it can only give the total number of students who have dropped out – 122,769 – and not their reasons for dropping out.

More than half (55%) have been in debt for more than three years, but if unemployed formers students are hoping for a reprieve, NSFAS states “None of the dropout debt was considered to have been prescribed as at 31 March 2017. NSFAS only writes off debt in respect of individual debtors who are deceased or permanently disabled.” Tough love.

Ms T Stander (DA) asked the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services: “(a) What is the total number of persons who have been (i) charged, (ii) prosecuted and (iii) convicted for female genital mutilation in each province (aa) in each of the past three financial years and (bb) since 1 April 2017 and (b) what are the details of the sentences handed down in each successful conviction?


“I wish to inform the Honourable Member that female genital mutilation is currently not defined in terms of the South African common or statutory law as a criminal offence.” The reply says it all. A person can be charged, for example, with assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm, but this would not be reflected separately in the statistical data bases.

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Thursday, 01 March 2018 22:47

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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