Parliament’s portfolio committee on women, youth and persons with disabilities and the select committee on health and social services met on Tuesday for their opening meeting for 2021. On the agenda? Unresolved issues from 2019.
No reference was made to the widely welcomed Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last week, which will assist both committees’ operations. The committees are still caught up in a controversy regarding a July 2019 request to constitute a board for the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) — the presidential vehicle for youth in South Africa.
Allegations of political interference
Following a request from the speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, in July 2019 to put together a board for the NYDA, the subcommittee managed to compile a final list of seven candidates on 4 August 2020, a year later.
But the list was met with opposition. Out of the 30 candidates who were shortlisted from more than 600 applications, seven made the final list, leaving few options to choose from.
The daughter of former president Jacob Zuma, Thuthukile Zuma, and the previous NYDA board chair, who was appointed by Zuma, Sifiso Mtsweni, were on the list.
Last year the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) voiced its concern, claiming the shortlisting process has been jeopardised by political patronage. It argued that “strong allegations have surfaced, which suggests the NYDA selection process is being conducted in favour of ANC national youth task team’s preferences”.
The South Africa Youth Chamber of Commerce (SAYCC) also wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa — the board’s final appointing authority — urging him to intervene in the matter. The SAYCC alleged most candidates were pre-selected before the official process started.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) objected to the candidate list, saying: “We are of the view that the majority of the candidates are politically compromised and have been installed by the ANC members of the committee.”
Three months after the list was made public, TimesLive reported the National Assembly speaker was “taking advice on the process followed by parliamentary committees” and that the process followed in choosing an NYDA board and its outcome “is being challenged legally.”
Selection process to start over
This week, the speaker’s advice tabled in November last year was tabled again and yielded no better results. “Given the number of complaints received, the gravity of the allegations and the potential reputational risk to the image of parliament and its processes, the committee should consider and respond to these factual allegations to address or remedy any potential risk,” Modise said.
Siviwe Njikela, a senior parliamentary legal adviser in parliament, briefly referred to the complaints, saying they included issues of transparency and openness, candidates showing the domination of a particular political party and a lack of geographic spread. Njikela labelled the complaints as factual allegations, which cannot be substantiated, and concluded the board selection process must start over.
Maurencia Gillion, the select committee’s chair, gave her assurance that “this subcommittee did everything to the letter. We had our legal experts with us during the whole process, but let’s start afresh. Let’s give ourselves a timeline of two to three months that we must finish this process as soon as possible so that we can give the NYDA the necessary time to do their job.”
The majority of representatives welcomed the decision to start over. The Economic Freedom Fighter’s Nokulunga Primrose Sonti said the process must be honest: “The demographic must be balanced, and the process must be fair.”
The DA’s spokesperson for women, youth and persons with disabilities, Luyolo Mphithi, who had objected to the candidate list, welcomed the speaker’s advice and said the concerns submitted around this process by young people across the country were valid.
After the meeting, opposition party Freedom Front Plus MP Tamarin Breedt said millions of rand had already been wasted by the parliamentary process to appoint a new board and has yet to deliver anything. She argued that the NYDA in its entirety “needs to be done away with”.
Breedt added that while this new process is underway no concrete plan has yet been announced on how the Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Response Fund will be made available, nor how the initial National Strategic Plan in fighting gender-based violence will be implemented.