Do you know who your MP is? Government representatives have a notorious reputation for either being evasive or only surfacing when they are in the thick of a scandal. It’s no surprise, then, that most people have no idea who their MPs are and how to get hold of them. In fact, a survey conducted by People’s Assembly shows that about 83% of South Africans do not know where their MPs constituency offices are situated. The offices are meant to be where the public can go to get help from the elected representatives and where MPs report back to their communities on what is happening in parliament.
To get more insight on how these offices operate, we visited the ANC Constituency office at Langham House on Cape Town’s Long street and spoke to councillor Thandeka Sisusa – an administrator at the office and the councillor of ward 54.
- What is the purpose of a constituency office?
The main purpose of our office is to listen to the public’s grievances and deal with them as quickly as we can. The office is open to everyone, as it is a Parliamentary Constituency Office (PCO). This means it doesn’t only look out for ANC members – everyone is welcome. Anyone can come and raise their issues with us.
- What kind of problems does your office deal with?
People come here with every problem they have. Sometimes they need information on bursaries, social grants and so on. We then refer the issues to the MP assigned to the constituency office. We also focus on community issues, more especially domestic workers’ problems. Some of them complain about how their rights are abused by their respective employers. We also focus on community issues like homelessness. We take care of homeless people by contacting shelters in the area that can accommodate them.
- How many people do you work with in the office?
There are usually three of us in the office: me, the administrator and the MP – who usually comes in when she’s not busy with parliamentary work .
- Who is the MP deployed to the office?
Pam Tshwete, the deputy minister of water and sanitation, but she hasn’t been here since she was deployed.
- What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
There are a lot of challenges, especially when we’re not getting support from the government . If there was assistance things would be easy for me. but government takes a lot time to respond to my complaints.
- How different is constituency work from municipal work?
We (the constituency office) are the ones that take problems to the municipality. We’re on the ground level and relay messages to those higher up.
- How can people interact with their MP’s on a more personal level?
MPs should try to avail themselves to the community. That’s where things normally lack. Sometimes people will come with a complaint and I try and explain to the MP, who will not pay much attention to it. This is often caused by the fact that the MP is not familiar with the area they are deployed to.
- Does your constituency office have any programmes that are mainly focused on young people?
As of now we do not have any, but we need to fill that gap. Young people must be educated about politics in general.
For more info on constituency offices and how they work, check out this article from People’s Assembly.
Photography by Xhanti Jafta
Live from Parliament casts a youth lens on parliament and government, covering committees, policy-making, MPs, and the sitting of actual Parliament. Our team of youth journalists will be reporting Live from Parliament every week in partnership with the People’s Assembly and Indigo Trust.
The People’s Assembly connects people and their elected representatives. To stay in touch with your local MP, visit www.pa.org.za, follow them on Twitter @PeoplesAssem_SA or Facebook/PeoplesAssemblySA.