In a virtual meeting, the Committee was introduced to the newly-appointed Western Cape Commissioner for Children, and was briefed on the Commission’s status and plans. The Premier of the province was present.
It heard that temporary premises had been secured at Norton Rose House in Riebeeck Street, Cape Town, and that Information Technology (IT) infrastructure had been set up at the Commission’s physical office.
The Committee was told that children were being recruited for their participation in governance, and for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliamentarians programme. Engagements were ongoing with child rights stakeholders, such as Deaf SA, and meetings were also being arranged with government departments such as the Department of Basic Education. There had already been engagement with the media, to build an understanding of the work of the Commissioner’s Office.
Members asked how the Commission intended to engage in a way that assured that children’s voices were heard, and that they were also represented. They expressed concern at the lack of the Commission’s representation in rural Western Cape areas, such as the Central Karoo and the Garden Route. They requested the Commission to redouble their efforts to ensure that the office was represented all over the province, because it was not only children in the metro areas that had challenges.
They also stressed that there was a strong mandate for the Commissioner to tackle issues of racism raised by children in Cape Town schools.
Introduction of Commissioner for Children
Ms Ammaarah Martinus, Director of Policy and Strategy Unit, Department of the Premier, said that Section 78 – 80 of the Western Cape provincial constitution provided for the establishment and principles governing the Commissioner for Children, and the powers and duties, and appointment and removal, of the Children’s Commissioner.
This Act was the first of its kind in South Africa and the first at a provincial level.
The Act was also significant, as it provided functional independence to the Children’s Commissioner, while assisting the Western Cape Government (WCG) to protect the rights, needs and interests of children in the Province.
Section 79: Powers and duties
The Commissioner had the power, as regulated in provincial legislation, to monitor, investigate, research, educate, lobby, advise and report on, matters pertaining to children. The Commissioner must report annually to the Provincial Parliament on the measures taken by the WCG to protect and promote the interests of children in the Western Cape, and may report to the Provincial Parliament at any other time.
Status update on Office of Commissioner for Children
Temporary premises had been secured at Norton Rose House in Riebeeck Street, Cape Town. The budget was located in Programme 2 (Strategic Programmes) in the Department of the Premier (DotP). Preliminary work had been done by the DotP to approve structures for the Commissioner’s staff. The Commissioner would take responsibility for employing her own staff, with operational assistance from the DotP’s corporate service centre.
On-boarding support would be provided to the Commissioner until staff members were in place. For example, there would be introductions to key role players in the four departments listed in the Western Cape Constitution, S78 -- Health, Education, Social Development, and Cultural Affairs and Sport.
Mandate of Office of Commissioner for Children
Ms Christina Nomdo, Western Cape Child Commissioner, said the mandate of her office included:
- Monitoring government service, policy and law impact, as well as identifying patterns, causes and consequences which negatively influence child rights by building cooperative relationships;Investigating government service complaints;
- Research to inform policy and practice, and building implementation mechanisms;
- Educating by developing and conducting information programmes;
- Lobbying Parliament or Council on legal systems and proposed laws, as well as policy and practice reform;
- Advising and recommending government and persons when monitoring, investigations and research had been conducted;
- Receiving requests for monitoring, investigating or researching child rights’ realisation;
- Child participation in the Office of the Commissioner for Children; and
- Issuing persons with a subpoena or notices to be a witness.
Core values and strategic intent for 100 days
The Commissioner for Children would be set up as an independent institution to promote and protect the rights of children, and would make referrals to the appropriate government departments when concerns were raised about children in need of support. The Commissioner would engage all stakeholders to shape the mission of the office, and would enable child government monitors to act as a reference group and to connect with the realities of children. From a developmental standpoint, the Commissioner would foster relationships within government to promote a child-rights approach to governance.
The first actions of the Commissioner would be the setting up of information technology (IT), communications and a physical office. She would be connecting with children for back to school experiences and recruiting for children’s participation in governance -- for example, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliamentarians. Other actions would include engaging child rights stakeholders -- for example, Deaf SA -- meeting with government departments, like the Department of Basic Education, and working with the media to build understanding of the Commissioner’s Office.
Mr Alan Winde, Western Cape Premier, thanked the Committees for the invitation to attend this sitting and seized the opportunity to welcome the Commissioner. He said it was an honour to welcome her and it was pleasant to see the enthusiasm she was bringing to that office. She was already bringing in fresh ideas and this was very exciting to see. This day had been a long time coming, and the Western Cape government looked forward to working with her, as is all of the province and civil society would be engaging with her office. Looking ahead, one could already see that she would make a difference in this office because of her energy and fresh thinking.
Social Development MEC pledges support
Ms Sharna Fernandez, Minister of Social Development, Western Cape, said she had already welcomed the Children’s Commissioner via Twitter and official correspondence. The Commissioner was assured of the full cooperation of the Social Development Department. The Department was aware of the issues she had committed to address in the next 100 days, and her vision and mission for the next two years. The Department pledged its support to her office, and was looking forward to her meeting the leadership team in the social development cluster so that names could be put to faces.
Mr C Dugmore (ANC) welcomed the appointment of the Commissioner and commended her for the work that had already been done. The members of staff in the office of the Premier also deserved special praise for helping her in setting up her office. It was now time to move ahead, and it had to be noted that it had taken time for this unique part of the Western Cape constitution to come into fruition. What was so significant was that her appointment was a unanimous decision across political party lines.
The question that emerged all the time, when working with children, was how did one engage in a way that assured their voices were heard and that they were represented? How did one organise the children’s sector? There were non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in the catering to the welfare of children, and government sectors such as the education department. Some NGOs had gone the extra mile and taken the trouble to involve children in the process of setting up the Commissioner, and had even come to observe the interviews.
There were some adults who had the view that children should not be involved in the organisation and structures that represent their voices, but the other day he had met a group from Heideveld involved in urban agricultural projects, and they had a board set up with six and 12-year-old children on their board. Since they were doing urban agriculture, the children were incorporated into helping in the growing of the food, have reading sessions and flying kites, but their main preoccupation was in growing food within a community space in an urban setting. Initial thinking, after learning that a six-year old was on the board, was that it smacked of child exploitation, but after meeting that child and knowing of their interest in the organisation and why they thought it was ideal to have them there, he had been blown away.
With regard to the actual budget breakdown for the staff and the process of appointments, was there an approved organogram yet? The office of Northern Rose Attorneys had been made available to the Commission -- was that a donation, or was there a lease in place?
Mr Dugmore referred to her speech to high school learners, recalling that in the 1980s how children and teenagers organised themselves in student representative councils (SRCs), and were strong voices in the schools. Those structures were then referred to as Representative Councils (RCOs). They had responsibilities such as sitting on governing bodies, were part of interviews for key staff, and even had to look at budgets. He was part of those that initiated the Western Cape RCOs body, and still informally connected with those in those bodes till today. If there was a structure of RCOs/SRCs in Khayelitsha or Mitchells Plain or George, for instance, it would help the Commissioner to engage with more diverse voices of children and young people. If one could rebuild that sector in partnership with NGOs, the education sector, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), with children’s voices heard and engaged, it could really be a big boost to the Commissioner and aid in rebuilding those voices.
Mr M Xego (ANC) also welcomed the Commissioner, but was concerned with the Commission’s lack of representation in rural Western Cape, such as in the Central Karoo and the Garden Route, as the Commissioner had alluded to. Her efforts therefore needed to be doubled to ensure representation from her office all over the province. It was not only children in the metro areas that had challenges. There was also a strong mandate for the Commissioner to tackle issues of racism raised by children in Cape Town schools. One did not want children to mobilise to retaliate in order to be heard. He hoped that this office would ensure an immediate resolution of these kinds of issues. The office had been established by political consensus and therefore would and should not be drawn to a political tug-of-war. He wished the office success in all its endeavours.
Ms R Windvogel (ANC) congratulated the Commissioner on her appointment, and asked if the Commission had all the resources it needed to functional optimally. Had the Commissioner been fully involved in the setting up of the office? What was the structure of staff in her office? How many staff members were there, and were they enough for her? Was the budget commensurate with the amount of work that she was expected to perform?
Ms W Philander (DA) also welcomed the Commissioner to her position, and acknowledged the passion she exudes for the job. It had been refreshing as well to see the enthusiasm of the children when they crafted posters for the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) Covid-19 field “Hospital of Hope.” During Level 3 of the lockdown, registered early childhood development (ECD) centres were still closed, while unregistered ECDs were still running in the communities. With emphasis on the safety of the children, did the Commissioner’s office consider getting involved in the process -- and up to what level, and how?
Commissioner Nomdo appreciated the warm words of welcome she and her office had received and was particularly happy that her appointment was a unanimous decision across party lines. This office would never get into party political issues, as the mandate was very clear. However, there would be a listening ear for everyone on issues that concerned children.
On administration issues, the budget had been set up in her absence in an appropriation bill that had preceded her appointment, without her input. The staffing structure had also been presented to her, and discussions would be helpful in order to assess whether the present staff would be enough to operationalise activities within the office. For future reference, it was important to not only make provisions for the office budget alone, but also for activities or projects, while outreach budgets were also crucial. This would be thrashed out within the next 100 days so that a proper budget could be drawn up in the next financial year.
As noted by some Members, the need to reach out to everyone in the province was extremely important. Once the pandemic situation improved, the Commission would embark on this important stream of its work. It noted the concerns regarding racism in society. Equality and dignity rights were the cornerstone of the constitution, and yet they seemed to be the hardest right to claim and enjoy. This was clearly an indictment of all who make up this society -- they were not working hard enough to bridge those gaps of inequality that were legacies of South Africa’s past. The dignity of everyone should start at birth and no one should be entitled to less dignity and equality in society.
This Commission would work robustly to build in children the resilience to come forward to voice their views, as they were doing in the social media platforms. Adults must not disclaim the experiences of children’s lived experiences, as their experiences were valid and must be given an affirmation as such. This Commission would work systematically and strategically to engage with the children. One may not see sensational things happening in the media, because that was not the style the Commission subscribed to, but it would work hard to improve things in the longer term.
On the comments regarding children’s capabilities, those in the child rights sector struggle to bring adults to understand that children have capabilities. One had to guard against drawing children into processes as tokens, as it undermined what they could bring into a process. Civic education was the key to building active citizenry. This Commission would work with children who came from every sphere of the social and economic divide.
Referring to the ECD issue, she said it was concerning that when one placed children at risk, one should always be aware of the gravity of the risks. Even at lockdown Level 5, children were under tremendous risks of being in a lockdown with their abusers. The enormity of such concerns were discovered during webinars held by the Commission recently, where children had spoken out on how the various levels of the lockdown had impacted on them and the risks they had brought to their lives. What was noted from policy levels was that ECDs were still to be closed, and only Grade R under the administration of the Department of Basic Education, and not under Social Development, would reopen soon. ECDs were under the auspices of the Department of Social Development, and so were still closed.
It brings out the concern that under Level 3, parents who needed to return to work had run out of options for the care of their children, and were entrusting their children to the care of others. There was a need to be alert so the best support possible could be provided. Government should be aware that if parents were going back to work, they had to be able to understand what the care arrangements for the children should be, so planning had to be holistic. This office would engage further with the ECD sector to see what role this office could play. It was grateful to Western Cape legislature and government, and remained open to further engagements.
The Chairperson added that there was no province-wide SRC of learners, but there was a vibrant and active junior city council in the metros. He asked if Members had any resolutions or demands for documents to be sent to government departments.
Mr Dugmore said his question on the arrangement regarding the Commission’s offices at Northern Rose had not been answered. He would like that question to be answered.
The Chairperson thanked the Members for participating.
The meeting was adjourned.
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.