February 16, 2020

Question Time raises more questions than answers

One of Parliament’s chief objectives is oversight of the executive, and a tool 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, many of the answers leave South Africans with more questions.

Here is a small sample:

D Carter (Cope) asked the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services about the project undertaken by the SA Law Commission in 1998 at the behest of late President Nelson Mandela into end-of-life-decisions. Extensive consultation resulted in the compilation of a draft Bill that was presented to the executive, but never acted upon. What happened it it?


The South African Law Commission (as it then was) submitted its report to the late Minister of Justice of the time, AM Omar, who responded: “The sections of the Bill dealing with the cessation of treatment, palliative care and living wills are of vital importance to the medical profession and patients and I realise that their enactment should not be unnecessarily delayed. However, in order to ensure public participation on the question whether provision should be made for active euthanasia and if so, on what basis, I would like to recommend for your consideration that an appropriate ad-hoc select committee of Parliament be appointed to consider the issue of active euthanasia as set out in section 5 of the Bill.”

He then referred the report with this recommendation to the then Minister of Health, Dr NCD Zuma, for her attention on 15 June 1999.

The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services had only this to say in reponse: “this matter is within the competence of the Minister of Health.”

Another initiative of the Mandela (and Dullah Omar) legacy dropped through the legislative cracks.

How close are we to collapse?

W M Madisha (Cope), alarmed by remarks by the Minister of Finance that a number of cities are on the brink of collapse, asked which cities he was referring to, why they are facing imminent collapse and what the Minister proposes to do to prevent the collapse of each city.


The Minister replied at some length to explain he was not referring to specific cities as such, but rather more broadly “to financial management challenges which if not properly addressed could lead to collapse”. He went on to say: “It is well known that a number of municipalities face significant governance, service delivery and financial challenges. These are often related, and the National Treasury has repeatedly emphasised that governance challenges are the most common underlying driver of service delivery and financial challenges.

“The National Treasury does have concerns about the performance of some municipalities with respect to governance, institutional, financial health and service delivery, some of which are not able to pay creditors and are struggling to pay for bulk water and electricity.”

The National Treasury’s latest report indicates that there were 95 municipalities in financial distress in the 2016/17 report, and many more that “have significant room to improve performance on many of the indicators tracked in the state of local government finances and financial management”.

And what is he going to do about it? Well there is the Urban Development Framework, the Cities Support Programme, Back to Basics (B2B), the Municipal Restructuring Grant and the Municipal Financial Management reforms.

In short, “The National Treasury and the Department of Cooperative Governance (DCoG) are collaborating to prioritise municipalities that are in financial distress and failing to deliver services for support and intervention to restore them to sustainability, working in collaboration with provinces.”. Well, that’s a relief.

If you ever wondered about who owns farms this will interest you?

N Paulsen (EFF) asked the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries how many farms South African had before democracy and how many it has now.


Before the start of our democracy, in 1993, South Africa had 57,980 farming units. According to the latest census of 2007 it had 39, 965 farming units. That’s a decline of 31%.

Whatever happened? The reasons that the number of farms have decreased over time are: Agricultural production under apartheid was subsidised ie prices received by farmers were guaranteed. When this fell away post-1994 many smaller farming units were no longer “profitable” and could not survive. Big farms then bought out the smaller farms to improve economies of scale. Not ones to miss a bargain left by an economic vacuum, mining companies then stepped in and bought over the large farms.

The reply goes on to say that questions on the average size of a farm asked in the 2002 Survey received a poor response rate “because of the sensitive nature of the question” and it was decided to leave that out of the census “because the results will be skewed”.  

How many learners are content to read while sitting in a container?

M Tshwaku (EFF) asked the Minister of Basic Education how many schools in each province do not have libraries and what it would cost to build libraries in all school.


A total of 17,560 schools apparently do not have libraries, and it would cost an estimated R28billion to build libraries in all these schools. That refers to those schools who want actual brick and mortar libraries. Others are content with “corner libraries, mobile libraries, container libraries and community libraries”. Depends on how fussy our learners are.

All schools have water and electricity, except those that have been vandalised

Mrs E N Ntlangwini (EFF) asked the Minister of Basic Education how many schools in each province do not have running water and electricity and what it would cost to ensure that these schools get running water and electricity?


According to the NEIMS Database, all schools have been provided with some form of infrastructure for water provision, such as a borehole, rainwater harvesting, water tanks, and communal supply or through municipal yard supply. Where a borehole or rainwater harvesting tank has dried up, arrangements are made with municipalities to provide potable water.

Similarly, all schools have been provided with some form of electricity, either through grid connection, solar, generator or other means of electricity provision. The sector is however, continuously affected by instances of theft and vandalism of solar panels and cables, which means that schools that previously had electricity, no longer have it.

Is Zuma’s generous R57billion for fee-free education going to cover the costs?

D J Maynier (DA) asked the Minister of Finance if the R57billion made available for fee-free higher education and training for students from households with income less than R350,000 is going to cover the cost. He wanted more details on costing free-fee higher education: what intake rate/enrolment rate is expected, what will be the cost per student; and how will that differ between universities and TVET colleges. In other words, he wanted to know what the fee-free education will cost.


Whether this funding will prove to be sufficient can really only be established later in the year when actual data has been collated and analysed. But costing for the next five years is based on a series of assumptions:

  • The estimated number of university first-time entrants in the 2018 academic year is 208,308 and at TVET colleges 338,437.
  • 40% of undergraduate university population and 100% of the full-time TVET students fall within the R350,000 household income threshold.
  • The average full cost of study at public universities is estimated at R76 000 for the 2018 academic year and at public TVET colleges R69 000 for the National Certificate Vocational (NVC) qualification and R66 000 for the Report 191/NATED
  • The assumed increase in annual enrolment rate for first-time entrants at universities is 5% from 2018/19 to 2020/21 and 1.9% at TVET colleges.

So that much is known. The actual breakdown of the cost per student for the 2018 academic year is not yet available. Actual cost per student depends on many factors, eg field of study and programmes, specific institution attended, whether they will stay in private accredited accommodation or receive a travel allowance. The prescribed learning materials also vary in line with the actual courses taken.

In other words, they don’t know.

Don’t plan your next trip to the Clanwillian Dam yet

L J Basson (DA) asked the Minister of Water and Sanitation about the construction work on the Clanwilliam Dam: when will construction start and end, who will do it and, the big question, what will it cost?


It all started back in June 2014 using an internal Construction Unit for the completion of the necessary site establishment activities. The bid for the appointment of a private sector construction contractor was issued on 26 August 2016 and closed on 9 November 2016.

But that is academic, because due to unavailability of funds for the construction phase of the project the tender bid could not be awarded.

The Minister has ordered a budget reprioritisation so that construction can start this financial year but “does not want to speculate on completion day”. And the cost? Estimated (in 2016) at R2,200 million.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 May 2018 17:11

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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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