How to approach your constituency office

The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill has been adopted by the Portfolio Committee for Basic Education, and will be debated in Parliament. This bill can have a severe impact on the freedom of parents to choose an education that is in the best interest of their children. The 400 Members of Parliament (MPs) will be required to vote on the proposed BELA Bill.

Most MPs probably will cast a vote based on uninformed perceptions and on whatever their party caucus advises. Since it is difficult to reach 400 MPs, parents can engage with MPs through constituency offices.

What are constituency offices?

South Africa’s electoral system is one of proportional representation, meaning that MPs and MPLs are not elected from geographical areas in the way that ward councillors are elected for local government. They are not accountable for voters in a specific geographic area. However, Parliament makes available to each party represented in Parliament a Political Party Constituency Allowance and political parties must use these funds to operate constituency offices.

There are about 350 Constituency Offices around the country where members of the public can approach elected representatives.

The Parliamentary Constituency Offices play a vital role in enabling the public to become active citizens and to take part in parliamentary activities. It creates opportunities for direct interaction with MPs, to lobby representatives, receive report-backs from MPs as well as advice on how to access services from both public and private sector establishments. The offices also offer assistance with challenges faced by communities in participating in the processes of Parliament, such as preparing submissions or drawing up and presenting petitions. MPs also attend Committee meetings, and can convey information to the public about what happens at the meetings.

If you want to find the MP that is allocated to your constituency, visit the website

Enter your address and click on “Search”. The website will display all people allocated to your constituency including ward councillors, Members of Parliament (MPs) or Members of Provincial Legislature (MPLs). Since the BELA Bill is a matter of national government, click on “MPs” and "MPLs". The MPs will vote on the bill when it is in the National Assembly and the MPL's when it is considered by the provimces. The website will display all the MPs and MPL's allocated to your constituency. Choose the one that you prefer and get his or her contact details.

How to arrange a meeting?

Use the contact details on the website to contact the MP to make an appointment. You can personally go and meet the MP at the constituency office, or you can arrange a meeting at a public place and get other parents to join you. Typical public places could be a town hall or a meeting room at a public library. Local authorities are obliged to make these facilities available for community activities.

Webinars can be arranged to help parents for such meetings.

What should you discuss at such a meeting?

Some of the concerns that can be raised during a meeting are the following:

  1. Education departments are closing many small schools, mainly in rural areas. Bussing learners or putting them into hostels infringes on their right to parental, family and community care. It does not only affect learners but is often an existential threat to entire communities. Public participation processes make it difficult for affected communities with little resources to meaningfully engage with government.
  2. Schools in urban areas are overloaded and many learners cannot be placed. Instead of encouraging more classrooms to be built,, the BELA Bill attempts to resolve the problem by reducing the powers of School Governing Boards to determine admission and language policies and centralising these in the Head of Department. This will make it difficult for well- functioning public schools to maintain their cultural and religious identity and academic standards.
  3. While home education can offer solutions for rural communities and reduce the pressure on urban schools, the BELA Bill seems to be designed to deter parents from choosing home education. To register, parents must meet criteria that are subjective, arbitrary and potentially unaffordable for many. Furthermore, permission to register can only be granted by the Head of the Department. The power to regulate home education is centralised by giving the Minister unfettered powers to make regulations on home education.
  4. While emerging educational modalities such as cottage schools and online education can also offer solutions for rural and urban communities, the BELA Bill makes no provision for these new modalities. To the contrary, the bill increases the penalty for operating unregistered independent schools.

Also give the MPs an opportunity to explain what they do in Parliament and what their thoughts are about education and parental involvement in education. Even if the MPs do not agree with your views on education, they will find it much more difficult to disagree after they have met real families affected by the bill.

What to do at the end of the meeting?

It is important that you take a photo of the parents and the MP and share this, together with a short report, on WhatsApp groups to encourage other parents to also meet with an MP in their constituency.

Will this make a difference?

It seems a daunting task to reach 400 MPs to swing the vote on the BELA Bill. It must however be taken into account that political parties make decisions on how party parliamentarians should vote on legislation within a caucus. If a critical mass within the caucus of a political party can be persuaded to support home education, it can influence the vote of all the MPs in that party.

All members of a political party elected to parliament belong to their party's respective caucuses. The caucus meetings are held behind closed doors and this is where a party debates and forms a common position on an issue and where a decision is taken on how the party should vote as a bloc.

The most important recent caucus meeting was the famous ANC meeting to decide on the motion of no confidence in ex-President Jacob Zuma. Therefore each and every parliamentarian can have an important influence in caucus.

Can meeting an MP lead to prosecution?

Some parents are concerned that meeting an MP could lead to the prosecution of families. There are several reasons why this is extremely unlikely. Firstly, prosecution is done by the executive branch of government, while MPs are in the legislative branch of government. Due to the POPI act, these branches are not allowed to share personal information. Secondly, departmental officials in the executive branch of government are very reluctant to prosecute citizens that state their case in public and engage with politicians. Thirdly, there is no obligation of motivation for MPs to report parents to department officials.