Children's Commissioner progress report

Premier & Constitutional Matters (WCPP)

01 September 2021
Chairperson: Mr R Mackenzie (DA)
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Meeting Summary


The Department of the Premier (DoP) provided a report on progress made to date in setting up the Office of the Children's Commissioner. The Western Cape Commissioner for Children Act commenced a year ago. Staff have now been recruited. The Commissioner had created a few additional positions to achieve better results. The budget allocated during 2020/21 was R8 million, of which R 1.4m had been spent as much administrative and operational support had been provided directly by the DoP. Permanent accommodation had been found from October 2021.

The Children’s Commissioner spoke about her vision for her Office and her activities during the past year. She introduced her staff and spoke about the organogram and the reduced funding.

Members raised concern about the youth in the Western Cape who were exposed to gangsterism, guns and drugs from an early age and were targeted by drug lords. The response was that one needed to create good family support structures. The government needed to create a mindset of prevention, to avoid always being in crisis mode. There would be budgeted programming on “violence prevention” to provide good support to families. Families should have a sense of belonging and socio-economic rights should be achieved. Having jobs and food on the table would contribute to that.

Members noted that the Office of the Children's Commissioner was an independent provincial Chapter 9 office as detailed in the Western Cape Constitution. They asked about budget constraints and support from other government and non government institutions both provincially and nationally.

The Committee resolved to meet with the Children’s Commissioner and the Provincial Treasury on the budget so the needs of the Office could be immediately addressed for the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF).

Meeting report

Support to Children's Commissioner: Department of the Premier briefing
Dr Harry Malila, Director-General: Western Cape Provincial Government (WCPG), said the question of the hour was what the Department had done so far, since the establishment of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in 2020.

The budget was secured and earmarked in Programme 2 – Strategic Programmes in the Department. On-boarding support was provided to the Commissioner until staff members were in place such as setting up of office, IT, communications. Introductions were made to key role players in the social sector departments. Administrative office and operational support was given including procurement and staff support on visits/workshops. A part-time personal assistant was assigned.

Status update on Office of the Commissioner for Children.
Following approval of the organisational structure, the Commissioner had taken responsibility for recruiting her own staff, with operational assistance from the Department.

Taking into account budget constraints and the vision of the work to be carried out by the current Commissioner, the sub-directorates had been re-organised, to bring on board the requisite capacities complementing the current skills set of the Commission, to fulfil urgent functions.

The sub directorates were “Investigations and Advice” and “Monitoring and Awareness”.
Posts had been advertised towards the end of 2020 and recruitment processes had since been concluded. A Deputy Director of Investigations and Advice, Assistant Director and Children’s Commissioner Officer had been appointed. A full-time personal assistant had been assigned to the Office from the Department.

Budget and Accommodation
The budget allocated for 2020/2021 was R8 million, of which R 1.4 million had been spent.
Amounts earmarked over the MTEF: R9.8m (2021/22); R5m (2022/23) and R5.2m (2023/24). These amounts included unspent funds from 2020/21 including R3m specifically set aside to secure permanent accommodation for the Office of the Commissioner of Children.

Earmarked allocation reports were provided to the Provincial Treasury each quarter.
Temporary premises had been secured at Norton Rose House in Riebeeck Street and the Office had since been moved to 6th Floor of the Waldorf Building. There had been good progress in securing permanent accommodation. This step involved procurement to identify proper space and ensure that funding for that was available.

Ongoing support:
In the first year, the Department had provided administrative and operational support for strategic programmes, CFO office, communications, people management, Centre for E-innovation (such as social media, website, IT support), strategic management information (M&E framework).

Quarterly meetings between the Children’s Commissioner and the DG had been institutionalised.

For 2021/22 the received overview, mandate and plans built on the immediate goals of:
- Staffing and setting up the Office.
- Procuring suitable accommodation for the Office.
- Building strategic models for child rights-aligned practice.
- Implementing mandated powers and duties.

Quarterly Reports on financial and non-financial data were provided by the Office of the Commissioner to the Department while as per regulation, the Commissioner reports annually to the Provincial Parliament on activities, performance, functions and achievement of those objectives.

Dr Malila said he had constantly met with the Premier on this matter. The Children’s Commissioner is a programme in his Department – they followed the PFMA processes and responsibilities. The situation had become difficult over the past months given the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Department had been providing the necessary support. The main challenge had been not having sufficient funds to fulfil the entire organisational structure. The money received by the Department had come from Provincial Treasury as approved by the Legislature, and a decision now had to be made on how the money would be spent accordingly. R5.5 million had to be spent per annum on staffing needs and operational expenditure.

Dr Malila explained that with the allocated funds, it would be impossible to fund the entire project unless the financial situation of the country changed. The Department of the Premier however would decide what could best be done with the available funds. Accountability processes were in place to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament.

Office of the Children’s Commissioner
Children’s Commissioner, Ms Christina Nomdo, said she had successfully accounted in terms of governance as an institution in the Western Cape. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner was the first of its kind in the history of the country. There had been much recognition of that achievement worldwide given the fact that she liaises with other commissioners across the globe. People had generally been excited about the RSA Commission and about that which it could bring to the world’s platform that is unique to the rights of children.

Once sworn into the job, Commissioner Nomdo had promised to develop models of implementation in the Western Cape that would be globally recognized. She had been happy to announce that even though the Commission had been created only one year previously, it was already functioning at a high level of maturity. She thought about the needs of the project and the Commission would be bold in re-imagining and remaking childhoods. The legacy should be that children could talk to Government, and that Government could talk to children. This was about mainstreaming human rights and children’s rights. The Commission could play a big role as a resource to implement those rights, given fact that in South Africa they had not yet quite sunk in.

On the screen was Commissioner Nomdo’s project complete with a photo of a child named Lucano, who had written a poem at the age of 17. In it he spoke about the scepticism of children towards adults, and particularly of his own scepticism about Commissioner Nomdo. From his poem Commissioner Nomdo had picked up two main points: first, that there was a connectedness between herself and the children with whom she works and whom she meets. She said that being able to connect with children and to talk with them was a real skill. It was about earning their trust so as to be able to forward their requests to higher authorities and influence their lived realities. Commissioner Nomdo prided herself in that special skill which she brought to the arena and to this institution. The second point was that Lucano had said that the Commissioner was the microphone that allowed children to express themselves. Commissioner Nomdo saw herself as the bridge, platform and amplifier of the voices on the ground into policy spaces, into law spaces, into Parliament. She hoped that during her term she would achieve that.

One of the projects that she had created from the outset was child-friendly information products. If Government was to speak to children, it should speak in the language of children. This was not necessarily about one of the national official languages, but about the pitch, the approach, the way to speak to children. One way to do so would be to create posters in conjunction with the staff of the communications department of the Commission. The work was basically about creating a brand for the Commissioner’s Office. A way to make children understand what government and governance was by using a playful language to be able to communicate messages to children. The children’s stories were written and read in three languages. That had been done in partnership with RX radio journalists who worked at the Red Cross Children Hospital. That radio channel was the only one on the entire African continent run by children. They had told the story of Commissioner Nomdo’s mandate and this had been diffused in the report. The children referred to her as a special person in the province who protected children’s rights. She listened to children in a way other authorities did not.

As a prelude to her Annual Report, Commissioner Nomdo announced proudly that the previous day she had received the fully designed version of it. It was about 50 pages long, well designed and child-friendly, and would be presented at the Speaker’s behest. The Speaker would inform Commissioner Nomdo of the day she was due to report. Four supplementary reports would be presented, the fourth one being an infographic and posters in hard copy format. It would be the first publication of its kind emanating from the Commissioner’s Office.

She referred to Dr Malila who had said that for 10 months of the first financial year following the institutionalisation of the Office, Commissioner Nomdo had worked alone. It had been very difficult, but she had received welcome support from the Department of the Premier in the form of HR, Communications, Monitoring and Evaluation, Technology (for Facebook and Twitter accounts). Had it not been for their help, there would not have been anything to show that day. She felt very grateful to Dr Malila and his team. Being alone however was not a reason not to render results, and despite the hard work, the results were indeed showing.

With Ms Samantha Morris, her personal assistant from DoP, she had driven to Matzikama Municipality in October/November 2020. There they had conducted workshops in Ward 8. Two weeks later she had driven there again, this time with Ms Ann Cloete, from DoP staff. They had visited the Bergriver Municipality and had managed to create a pilot project for community child rights workshops after discussions with parents, children and service providers. The aim had been to hear about and understand people’s lived realities. It was also about getting feedback from service providers. In the Annual Report, she would say much more about her activities there. She acknowledged the important help of Ms Morris in managing her diary, tracking the stakeholders and presenting a stakeholder analysis that she could include in the Annual Report.

She acknowledged Ms Tessa Goldsmidt, Investigations and Advice Officer, who joined in February 2021 and had been the first staff member in the Commissioner’s Office. She was a PhD Candidate and a certified Research Psychologist. She was considered to have natural abilities in child participation, techniques and methodologies. She had a great future ahead of her in the area of understanding children. Her area of specialisation was Parenting in the first 1000 days of a child’s life.

Ms Rofhiwa Ntlantsana, Investigations and Advice Officer, was another gift, having joined in June 2021, and being a social worker by training. She had brought relief to Commissioner Nomdo because of her help with complaints and enquiries. Her analytical skills had been essential. Thanks to her, the outcome of work on the complaints and enquiries received by the Commissioner was visible. She was further very useful as in the next year Commissioner Nomdo would go to community level and visit child care institutions, child and youth care centres and talk to children in state care.

Mr Cameron Seister, Deputy Director: Investigation and Advice, had come on board in July 2021. He could set up systems and protocols and had great research skills with a Masters Degree in organisational psychology and a background in policy and strategy in DoP. The Commissioner had benefited from the training that Dr Malila had given Mr Seister. In the Annual Report he had compiled a situational analysis of children.

In the Commissioner’s Office there were another 12 staff members and the Commissioner presented a slide that explained the hierarchy in the Office. There was an administrative head, a role currently played by Mr Seister. That director had a personal assistant. For operational reasons there were two sub-directorates: investigation and advice; and monitoring and awareness.

Commissioner Nomdo had been doubtful at first that she would secure the money necessary to maintain a 12-person team. However, the need had arisen to create an investigative branch. She had therefore created jobs for two deputy directors and two child officers. Ms Ntlantsana, the second Child Officer, unfortunately was not a permanent staff member, but was on a temporary two-year contract. The branch would thus be able to operate at full strength at least in the first two years. No one in the Office had been appointed on a permanent basis. Ms Morris was also a temporary staff member working as personal assistant.

Commissioner Nomdo said that Western Cape Parliament was the ultimate authority for funds for the Office. She had approached Parliament requesting staff for advocacy, monitoring and awareness so that the IT section (such as Facebook and Twitter) would be appropriately updated on a regular basis.

To fund her entire Office, it would cost R7.6 million. Something over R3 million had currently been dedicated to compensation of employees. That said, she asked for feedback on whether the Office was doing a good job in the province in terms of expectations.

As the Office of the Child Commissioner, it would be necessary to set up a proper office in an appropriate building, and have more than the bare minimum. She had spoken to the DG, who had agreed to the setting up of a permanent landmark office. The building would need to be attractive as foreign organisations would be cognisant of the work of the South African Child Commissioner. She therefore wished to create an iconic landmark in the province: one that was child-friendly, to reflect on her institution’s work with children, to whom she remained very close. The children involved in the project were surprisingly active and were present in every interview given by staff. Amongst the photos in the child presentation, she mentioned a few names such as Zubair, and Alicia. Jalen had gone with her to look at potential accommodation. She was satisfied about the plans for the permanent Office. Even the Department of Transport and Public Work (DTPW) had considered this to be a strategic investment. The Commissioner was overjoyed at being in constant communication with Dr Malila and the DTPW in moving the process forward. The team would be able to move into the new offices in October, and it would be equipped with child-friendly furniture. People who visited the Office would be able to sit on poofs, would be able to relax, and recall aspects of their own childhood. She and her staff were excited about the project. She would always be aspirational for the Office and would push the boundaries of what is possible. The DG was inspirational too in helping her achieve that target. Children deserved the best, therefore the Office would do its best to attain those goals, ensuring children could talk to government and influence the way government worked to be able to bring positive change in the lived realities of children.

Administratively speaking, the Commissioner’s Office was embedded in the Department of the Premier and the Commissioner appreciated the DG’s role as the accounting officer appointed by Parliament – hence his need to manage the money allocated. The administration and Provincial Parliament should have a well-functioning special relationship as the Commission reported to Parliament to which it needed to show the impact it was making in society. The Provincial Parliament was also the protector and custodian of the Office. They should partner and make things happen. The Commissioner’s Office should guard its independence jealously but should never refuse to be accountable. The Department of the Premier was strategic, and Dr Malila was the DG of that department, and therefore important. The two bodies should be able to depend on each other for strategic priorities such as such as violence prevention. There would be no need for the Commissioner’s Office to recreate information if the DG already had that information – as this would save time and provide opportunities. It would also be important to create a “youth desk” within the Office, which would not be governed by government staff but by teenagers and young adults who would act as a reference group on policy matters for the Department of the Premier.

The Department would help build institutional capacity for active citizenship of children and youth. Mr Seister had suggested to her that they visit Chromaria and compile a course that would teach children about active citizenship. Children had much to offer, and it was necessary to optimise that potential by emphasising their identity within the governance module. The Office had partnered with the implementers in a way that monitored, investigated, and aimed to improve functioning of and alignment to children’s rights. The Office partnered with the legislature to ensure that they achieved the outcomes for children in the society they wished to see in the future. The child identity must be very clear in the governance milieu.

Commissioner Nomdo said that she had in a previous presentation said that dignity and equality were the foundational values of South Africa’s Constitution, yet seemed to be the hardest right to claim. She knew that the Premier had said that dignity was very important to him, and that this could be achieved through job security and the well-being of people. However, she approached dignity rights from a slightly different perspective; that is to say, a very human perspective. She referred to the fact that there are people who have good salaries and drive nice cars, while others have to beg for small change on the streets at traffic lights. She explained that even though she usually does not have the cash to give, she still looks in the eyes of the person, giving them dignity as an equal rights holder. Speaking to them, wishing them all the best, acknowledging them. People usually thank her in body language for the acknowledgement.

Mr G Brinkhuis (Al Jamah-ah) thanked the Commissioner for her presentation. He acknowledged the low level of funding for the Commissioner’s Office, but asked what was being done for children involved in gangsterism in the Western Cape. Why were children as young as eight years old carrying firearms on the Cape Flats? The situation was almost a pandemic and asked what the Office could do about drug lords.

Mr R Allen (DA) complimented the performance and dedication of its staff to the children’s cause. Proceeding to Section 28 of the Bill of Rights on the protection of children, he wondered if Commissioner Nomdo envisioned herself as the main patron of children’s causes, even though it worked with many other child-related institutions including the South African Police Service (SAPS). He also asked if she had in mind other institutions with which the Commission could collaborate nationwide to secure a children’s agenda. He called it a “national counterpart” in terms of the National Planning Commission (NPC) initiative on children participation in governance.

Mr P Marais (FF+) asked about the significance of Commissioner Nomdo’s enthusiasm and the executive’s plans, and what would ensure understanding in case of miscommunication or misunderstanding between the executive and the legislature. Given that budgets were slashed in all departments how would the Commission cope, since the child factor was present in all those departments. For example,the Health Minister must provide for sick children, the Housing Minister must provide for homeless children. Would the provincial legislature help to enforce those provisions in the child sector to give the Child Commission more power of action? Would that power of action extend to the homes of the children? Would the teaching children received from the Commissioner’s Office directly improve their lives at home in the face of a drunken father or an illiterate mother?

Mr C Dugmore (ANC) expressed thanks for the reports. He pointed out that the Director General had said that the Commissioner was part of the Department. That statement was erroneous as the Children’s Commissioner was a Chapter 9 Institution of the Western Cape Provincial Constitution, and not part of the Department. The fact was that a Chapter 9 institution needed to report to the Legislature. The DG and his team were obviously appreciated for their work for the children. However, such statements should not be made because there were lines of separation.

The Commissioner’s Office organogram had been approved by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), but all provinces had been similarly affected by budget and staff cuts. They all received an equitable share based on updated population statistics. R150 million had been taken from Treasury and used for the so-called Blue Dot and Red Dot Taxi Campaign. Could the DG have made a mistake in his statement? He noted DPSA had approved the staff establishment, but given the budget reprioritisation challenges, had the Commissioner briefed Treasury on all upcoming expenses with a proposal for its MTEF funding?

The Chairperson reiterated similar questions to those of Mr Dugmore and Mr Allen, saying that there were government institutions throughout the province which dealt with children whether it be in education, community development or cultural affairs, and he wondered if they could assist the Commission to speed up its work. Also, the Department of the Premier had much information on treasury and health, and was a partner to the Commissioner when it came to lobbying and monitoring investigations. While waiting for the economy to pick up, what were the targets to continue meeting the demands in spite of low funding? He asked if Commissioner Nomdo tended to work with the police – she had recently met with Police Commissioner Bheki Cele. He asked if working with the police had produced better outreach results. His last question was if the Commissioner had worked with many Cape Town NGOs given the fact that Cape Town was known for championing rights and environmental causes. Those institutions were fully funded and they would not ask the Commissioner for money, but merely partner in governance and mentorship. These would be bodies that have done lots of research on children such as the universities.

Director-General response
Dr Malila replied to Mr Dugmore saying that people must have misunderstood his comments. The Children’s Commissioner Office was not part of the organisational structure of the Office of the Premier, but was an independent Office in terms of Chapter 9 of the Provincial Constitution. It was part of the department budget and programme structure and one should distinguish between the two. In the Department budget, there was a sub-programme within Programme 2 for the Office of the Child Commissioner, with money allocated to it. On budget cuts, for 2021/22 the Office budget had been cut by 10% but the Department had managed to protect and allocate money destined for the children’s programme. This amounted to R5.5 million with R3 million for accommodation. That money was protected and safely allocated and the children’s programme then went on smoothly.

On the DPSA approval of the organisational structure, this had all been approved. In these dire times experienced by all government structures, one needs to think carefully what are the most important and urgent projects to be achieved. There had been a discussion between Ds Malila and the Commissioner on the question of jobs and about which positions would fall away due to money shortages, and which would remain because they were more urgent and important. Entities were finding themselves short of money due to the Covid-19 pandemic; however, pressure was on the Commissioner to prove that she could spend the allocated money no matter how small the amount. The Commissioner was then encouraged to make a financial proposal to Treasury on the budget. The Department of the Premier was indeed in charge of allocating money but institutionally speaking, Commissioner Nomdo had the latitude to choose where and how the money would be spent. She did not need to report to Dr Malila, but could report directly to Parliament, although she would report to Dr Malila as per PFMA regulations on programming issues.

Dr Malila said he hoped that Mr Dugmore understood the difference between the two Offices.

Commissioner response
Commissioner Nomdo replied about child rights governance and other institutions and mechanisms in the country. The South African Human Rights Commission had designated a Commissioner for children by the name of Ms Angie Makwetla. However, there was no National Commissioner for Children. For that to be the case the Constitution would need to be changed as child commissioners were “creatures of statutes”. Mr Allen had referred to the National Planning Commission NDP initiative for children and Commissioner Nomdo had stepped into that position. Commissioner Nomdo drove that initiative herself and this was reflected in the reports.

In 30 years of working in civil society she had developed good relationships with academic institutions, civil society partners, and community level partners. This stood the Office in a good stead with other institutions, working in a complementary capacity around the country. The people with whom she needed to build strong relationships were the Heads of Departments (HODs) and MECs of government departments. The relationships had been going very well, even though Mr Marais had raised the possibility of those other institutions not listening to the Commissioner. She explained that such a case would not arise because for now they were indeed listening to her and working in good partnership with her. They listened to her because she approached them from an institutional governing approach, and not from a punitive or criticising approach. They worked together constructively.

Commissioner Nomdo described herself as being very passionate and committed to what she does and she would know how to behave in difficult circumstances. The Provincial Parliament would hear about any significant blockages, should they occur. Should those institutions not work in good collaboration with the South African Constitution to realise children’s rights, it would be reported to Parliament.

Commissioner Nomdo had a very good relationship with Mr Cele, and he had directed her to which department to talk to first starting with management desks, then youth desks and so forth. The kind of work she does could not be personality driven, but should consist of a plethora of people who bought into children’s rights. Parents were said to be the first duty bearers of children’s rights, and the first protectors and promoters of children’s rights. She had written about this very explicitly into her report. Hence, she had been talking to parents first when implementing a community project.

In some places, she had done so via radio programmes and had connected with parents in that way. However, in Maztikama she had seen parents directly and listened to their struggles as parents. It had been about making sure that parents do not abuse their children nor undermine their aspirations, dreams or contributions. She would ensure that they respected their children, and would empower their children to reach new heights. Commissioner Nomdo’s approach was to begin softly, gently, and in a non-intimidating manner, then proceed to be more energetic and assertive. Her relationship with children’s monitors or the children in her Office working as child representatives, was as strong as her relationship with parents. Before a child made an announcement in the newspaper or spoke at a webinar, she spoke first with the parents. Even if afflicted by poverty, parents needed to contribute positively to the children’s initiatives. The Office also had a Parenting Centre that provided support to parenting.

As for the strategic plan, they worked very well with the DoP monitoring and evaluation section. When people were committed to the cause in the way of the Commission staff, they even did things free of charge which did not happen in other departments.

Commissioner Nomdo replied about the prevention of violence, drugs and gun-carrying by children on the Cape Flats. She had heard from the Office of the Premier about the government dedicating its mindset and resources towards prevention of these ills, failing which one would always be in crisis mode. There should be programming of budgets towards “violence prevention”. In addition, programming to prevent gangsterism and drug abuse should focus on the creation of good family structures. Families should have a sense of belonging, and socio-economic rights should be achieved within families. Having jobs and food on the table would contribute to that. She saw herself as a strong advocate in that sense. Her programmes were considered to be linked to primary prevention because her Office was challenging power hierarchies in a society that placed children at risk of violence.

As for the budget and other obstacles in the implementation of her mandate, her Office had been created only one year previously. However, she often ran checks to track progress on the achievement of targets. So far, she declared herself satisfied with the progress made. MECs and Western Cape Parliament would know about it. Society would know about it as well, since it was her duty to report on her work to the broader society.

On the approval of the Office structure and if the Office would table that to the Provincial Treasury, Commissioner Nomdo replied that she had gathered all the processes needed to create one more post, to be funded within the MTEF. She would gather advice from Members on that matter.
On the question about representative councils of learners (RCLs), the Office had met with RCLs on the previous Friday, and she had received invitations from some 10 RCLs to visit schools in the region. Commissioner Nomdo and her Office were already making plans for those visits. These were places where children were already active citizens. Commissioner Nomdo declared herself open to transparency and innovation.

The Chairperson thanked Commissioner Nomdo and Dr Malila for the efforts put into the Office and all upcoming projects. Despite a fund shortage, children were the primary concern of the Office and one should always aim at making communities a safer and happier place for that cause.

Committee business
Committee meeting minutes of 2 June 2021 were adopted.

The Committee Reports on Quarter 4 2020/21 and Quarter 1 2021/22 were adopted as well as the tracking document and budget.

The Chairperson said the draft Committee Programme was subject to when the local government elections would be. He put consideration of the Committee Programme on hold for one week until the date of the elections was known.

Mr Dugmore made a series of complaints about many matters not having been attended to. He raised child adoption; the environmental clauses and the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution.

The Chairperson explained that due to the President’s decision to move to Level 4 lockdown, many matters had to be cancelled. However, now the country was back to a level with fewer restrictions, things were slowly but surely moving again and matters would be addressed bit by bit.

The Chairperson asked for resolutions and recommendations.

Mr Dugmore suggested that a meeting be held with the Children’s Commissioner and the Provincial Treasury to advise how the Commissioner’s Office should submit its own direct proposal and budget for consideration by Treasury for the medium term, and for 2022/23 in particular.

Mr Mackenzie closed the meeting by assuring members that all issues raised would be dealt with appropriately, and thanked them for their participation.


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