Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) was elected as Committee Chairperson.
The Chairperson said as all budget votes had to be approved by Parliament by 31 July 2014, therefore the Committee had to focus on the budget of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. The DA, EFFand UDM were all united about wanting to include a debate on farm worker evictions on the programme before the end of July - as a result of the policy proposals on farm workers. However, the Chairperson and ANC members were against this. Tension rose in the meeting when an ANC member suggested a vote on whether to include this in the Committee’s programme up to 31 July. The Chairperson ruled the matter could be lightly discussed by the Minister during the budget vote meeting but anything more than that would have to be debated after the budget process. The DA requested that it be put on record that it was not in agreement with the committee programme excluding a debate on farm worker evictions.
Election of Chairperson
There was a unanimous vote by committee members to elect Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) as the Committee Chairperson for the next five years.
Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) requested that committee members introduce themselves so all committee members are known to each other – as a strategy for smooth operations moving forward and working together as a team. She said the committee was not a new one but was carrying on its duties into the Fifth Term. It had the mandate to look into the issues dealt with in the previous committee; and see what are the issues which should be carried on in the new Fifth Parliament. She informed members of the legacy report from the previous committee which showed issues which were not dealt with or are outstanding and need a follow-up. The composition of the committee was not only the chairperson but all members of the committee. Thus if it fails, the failure falls on the committee as a whole not the Chairperson as an individual. She encouraged teamwork and hoped all members had the one common interest of improving the quality of life of the people of South Africa. She encouraged members to work together irrespective of their political affiliations. Hard work, commitment, maximum participation was what was expected of each participating member of the committee. When looking at the Constitution, the committee was mandated to oversee the executive and also to make the laws. People had voted them into the positions they are in presently - not for their CVs or qualifications - thus they needed to work together in order not to fail South African citizens. She requested member to consider the draft committee programme especially focusing their attention on the budget vote as the budget reading was just around the corner and they did not have enough time to discuss all the issues pertaining the budget vote.
The committee secretary then took members through the draft committee programme and welcomed any changes or additions to the programme. The Chairperson asked members to comment on the draft programme.
Mr M Filtane (UDM) said, while the Committee was not new, some of the members were new and he requested clarification about the committee meeting days.
The committee secretary replied that meetings were to be held every Wednesday at 9am as long as Parliament was not in recess.
Mr T Walters (DA) on behalf of the Democratic Alliance conveyed good wishes to the chairperson and said the party was there to make a contribution, turn around the rural development and land reform situation in South Africa. He requested the committee not to shy away from issues which were fairly controversial and said the more they debated, the more there might be a meeting of the minds and thus find ways forward. Currently in the media there was a debate on the proposed policy for strengthening the relative rights of people working the land. After the elections this was very much present in the minds of people and he proposed that this be included into the presentation alongside the Ingonyama Trust which would enable a debate on the matter.
Mr A Mngxitama (EFF) seconded Mr Walters proposal by requesting time to be given specifically to this policy proposal because if not done by April next year, there would be no farm worker on South African farms. This urgent matter had to be dealt with and once the arguments have been heard, should be brought to the attention of the Minister in a bid to protect people on farms since they are totally vulnerable and without any protection. He wanted the committee to be aware of the 14 bills of the previous committee in a bid to consider the pending issues which affected the committee.
Mr P Mnguni (ANC) began by congratulating the chairperson on her unanimous appointment and was very pleased that everyone agreed with this decision. He welcomed the spark for a good life for all South Africans as driven by the committee and was positive they would make a difference in that regard. He requested a tentative adaptation of the committee programme. Tentative in the sense of consultation with political structures, including study groups, so as to obtain proposals before the final adoption of the draft programme. He asked if there was a strategic plan for the committee in the pipeline with clear margins and timelines that provided a framework and programme of action before the committee gets into the routine Wednesday meetings.
In response the Chairperson said the focus of the programme presently was on the budget vote. This was because Parliament had to pass all budgets by 31 July hence the focus should be on the budget vote. She understood the issues raised by the members but there were processes that had to take place which were more important. If there were matters involving the department, the department would have an opportunity to account to the committee day or night. She reminded the committee of their five year tenure and requested they focus their attention on the budget vote 2014/2015 since they had insufficient time to deal with the matter. If there were other pending issues, these should be highlighted for consideration by the committee secretary for the second programme. The initial programme was binding till 31 July pending the passing of the budget. She requested that members not rush issues and also refer matters to the Minister for reference to the Speaker who would in turn refer it to the committee for further consideration and debate.
Mr T Walters (ANC) said in his experience, the longer you leave issues unattended, the more constricted you might be regarding time. One of the fundamental duties of the committee was to thoroughly debate issues which affect the South African people. With regards to the insecurity of farm workers, the mere fact that there was discussion taking place without a foundational debate within parliament would result in insecurity amongst farm workers. There was insecurity in the property market thus a technocratic approach was not advisable in these circumstances. He requested a presentation on the issue after attending to the matters on the draft programme.
Mr A Mngxitama (EFF) raised the issue of the farm worker eviction procedure. The job of the committee was to protect the South African people and the farm workers was an emergency case to which time should be allocated not only to just clarify the status if the policy proposal as announced by the Minister but the impact of it – because if the policy starts in April 2015 as stated in the media, there would be no farm workers left in South Africa. The committee needed to be made aware of the farm worker issue because presently South African farms have lost over a million farm workers even with the present legislation in place which purports to protect these people. If people are going to be kicked off land and need protection now, then urgency was needed when dealing with this matter. This topic would just be an addition to the current programme and he called on the chairperson to be sympathetic to the matter.
Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC) suggested a briefing by the Minister after the budget process in order to cater for the issue of the farm workers and the other outstanding items carried over from the Fourth Parliament for a better guided programme. He requested a day’s briefing for the committee for the issues at hand.
Ms A Qikani (ANC) said the committee could not move on other processes without first finishing the budget issue then it could attend to this proposal as an emergency item.
Mr T Mhlongo (DA) said the proposal for debate on urgent matters was requested by the chairperson. Members were responding to the plea as an addition to the draft programme. Not in any way did they want overlook the urgency of the budget.
Mr M Filtane (UDM) requested members cast their minds back to 2012 when Marikana began. There was a lot of talk in the media that government had acted very slowly and its public knowledge what tragedy had followed. No one wanted to see a similar situation with the farmer workers. Farm owners had already indicated their possible reaction to the proposal thus it was incumbent upon the committee to prioritise the matter.
The Chairperson said because of time constraints, these other equally important and sensitive matters could not be attended to at the moment. She requested members focus on the budget vote; after which the farm workers issue would be entertained. The Minister was to be present at the next meeting which would allow members an opportunity to address all urgent issues. Although the matter could not be discussed in detail because the focus had to be on the budget vote.
Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC) said departments were without a budget presently and as such all members should put their focus on the budget vote.
Mr T Mlongo (DA) said because of the time constraints as mentioned by the Chairperson, members should make time on Tuesday which was the committee’s unofficial meeting day to address these urgent sensitive matters without a time limitation.
The Chairperson said Tuesday was solely meant to be a preparatory meeting for what would take place on Wednesday. if a meeting was required, approval had to be sought.
Mr T Walters (DA) requested a fast debate on the matter because it affected farm workers, the rural economy, and rural property and he was not comfortable with leaving the matter for a later date. He thus requested an amendment in the draft programme which would require an extra hour or two to be added to the committee meeting which would not kill the members because they are on this committee to work. The more he listened to the debate on the issue, the more it become contentious and if need be a vote should be cast on the matter.
Ms A Qixani (ANC) requested members not to be in a rush because they had at least five years to address issues within the department. Members had to prioritize and reach a consensus rather than debating the same issue for hours.
This met with a lot of contestation from some members who believed that they did not have time to deal with the matter.
Ms N Magadla (ANC) requested committee members heed to the plea of the chairperson not to address matters in the current meeting but later when they were better briefed on such matters.
Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC) said all members agreed about the importance of that policy matter and there was no way they could meet with the Minister without asking questions about the proposed policy and what it entails. However members should acknowledge the budget meeting was happening on Wednesday. Their Tuesday session was meant for orientation on what had happened in the Fourth Parliament and no question would remain unanswered. As a portfolio committee all they needed was to get answers from the decision makers. The focus should be on passing the budget because there cannot be a department without a budget. All members were on the same page about the consideration of the urgent policy matter. He equally assured members of the presence of the Minister who could be queried on any pressing matters during their next meeting which was the only day they had to meet with him because he would be out of reach on any other day.
Mr P Mnguni (ANC) was not sure if the issues raised currently had just occurred or whether the current meeting was just a continuation of the energies raised in the house on the State of the Nation Address (SONA). He requested his next comment be put on record. That the ANC ruling party was continuing the programme of dispossession which started in 1652 was a myth and completely far from the truth. He referred members to the ANC strategy and tactics which was an open document and look at what the ANC’s strategy. A democratic society was completely different from 1652 in agenda, form, content and everything. He acknowledged South Africa’s diversity of political parties and that all should be persuaded. As regards to Mr T Walters (DA) continually raising his hand; he suggested the issue be put to a vote. He requested the chairperson continue with the draft programme because there could not be farm worker evictions overnight. This would be a hard and tedious process which could never happen in the twinkle of an eye. Mr Walters suggestion was spot that members vote and the outcome of the vote would be obvious. To him the matter should not be discussed beyond his point.
This raised a lot of voices in the room about the suggestion of a vote. The chairperson stepped in to suggest closure of the discussion but they were many unhappy members who still insisted on raising their hands.
Mr A Mngxitama (EFF) said he did not know if the threat of a vote would be a useful manner of engagement. The committee was meant to look at matters help each other understand what was being said and then resolve the issues raised. There was no opposition to the idea of dealing with the budget. The way forward would be to ask the secretary to add a point on the agenda named threatening the relative rights of the people working on land which was the name of the policy; then the Minister comes Wednesday according the members an opportunity to raise the issue as part of their oversight which means that people are being evicted by the given policy. It was only a suggestion to have it fitted during the briefing with the Minister because if this fails, the consequences for the people are grave. On the ground regarding to what farmers are saying it’s not a joke. The policy was one of evicting the people with its impact.
Mr M Filtane (UDM) requested an indication to the Minister to address the policy matter. They did not want the Minister to avail himself for only specific issues and for a certain amount of time. He requested the Minister come to the next meeting ready to engage with the committee members who did not want to miss that opportunity. It was unfair for Mr Mnguni to threaten them with a vote at such an early stage. He knew the figures were tilted against the opposition but threatening with a vote was undermining. The South African people represented by the members of the opposition were still South Africans. Members had hardly gone into the policy matter and already had been threatened by a majority vote which was intimidation. He suggested even if the vote would be against him that Mr Mnguni withdraw his statement.
Mr Tshililo Manezhe (Content advisor for the portfolio committee) said the committee in their next meeting would be taken through a policy trajectory to date. The issue was about the committee engaging with the executive on policy matters. Key programmes had been identified and were going to be looked into as well as the various policies which had been developed. However an in depth briefing on the issue of the farm workers needed to be decided upon by the committee.
Mr T Walters (DA) requested clarification on his earlier request which led to the voting issue. He had requested an addition to the draft programme as suggested by the committee secretary that inputs could be made to it. They were not in agreement about the draft programme and the only way to settle whether there was an agreement or not was to put the matter to a vote. His intention was not meant to sprout all kinds of other issues. He specifically requested for time to be given to the debate on the given policy and thought it was not an unreasonable request in any way.
In response the Chairperson said during the Committee’s next meeting, highlights on the policy issues will be brought forward and the Minister would make his own political overview on the matter and the members had a right to engage the Minister on the matter and if persons are left unsatisfied, it would be continued after the budget vote. At this point she asked whether the members agreed to that.
Mr T Walters (DA) requested that they record the disagreement of the DA to the draft programme.
The Chairperson reminded the meeting of the legacy report, the annual report and the strategic plan which had been supplied earlier and said they would assist members during their next meeting. She requested them to analyze the documents to ready them for their next meetings with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. She thanked members for attending the first meeting which she termed as very informative.
The meeting was adjourned.
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