The Speakers’ Forum made up of the Speakers of all the South African legislatures including the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) and the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and their deputies, met in Umhlanga, Durban, to discuss matters of mutual concern.
An important item on the agenda was the impact of the fire that gutted Parliament’s buildings in Cape Town. Speaking on whether Parliament will remain in Cape Town or be relocated, the Speaker of the NA, Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, reported that since the lifting of the Disaster Management Act induced by Covid-19 regulations all political parties have called for in-person contact to resume, as online meetings have been made very difficult to sustain due to the current levels of loadshedding. Many political parties claim that the hybrid parliamentary system is preventing them from holding the executive accountable.
Notwithstanding these calls, the Good Hope Chamber, which has served as a temporary chamber since the fire and which has a smaller capacity than the original chamber, has not had full occupancy, which flies in the face of the demand expressed.
Ms Mapisa-Nqakula briefed her audience on the feasibility studies that have been commissioned to determine whether to rebuild or relocate Parliament, with the final decision being made to retain Parliament in Cape Town, as this is more cost-effective than relocating it to Tshwane.
According to a Coega Development Corporation study undertaken in 2018, restoring the Old Assembly and the new wing of the NA would cost R339 million and R989 million respectively, with the final bill coming in at R1.3 billion, but well over R8.8 billion to relocate it. This figure will have risen since then.
If Parliament’s systems are digitalised and modernised to allow its online and hybrid platforms to function optimally, the current cost of R1.1 billion for its restoration could rise to R2.4 billion. This consideration is critical because this digital infrastructure will invariably become a mainstay of parliaments of the future. Given the contentious nature of our constitutional democracy, it’s expected that this express decision will be a subject of consultation and debate at Parliament before it’s formally endorsed.
On how long the restoration will take, the Speaker stated that to restore the Old Assembly to its former capacity it would take approximately one year and the NA two years.
22 September 2022