Several petitions have sprung up in recent months, ranging from opposing the bail of a murder-accused and bringing back the death penalty, to protecting athlete Castor Semenya. Signing these petitions make you glow with pride for helping a good cause, but what actually happens to the petition once you have signed it?
Very rarely does one hear of a law being passed or real change coming from a petition started by your average Joe, and we will explain why.
Sections 56 and 69 of the Constitution provide for the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces to receive petitions, representations or submissions from any interested parties.
“Public participation in law-making, oversight and other processes of Parliament is an important constitutional provision of our democracy. Parliament has developed a number of ways to promote public involvement in the work of the institution. One way the public can exercise their right to participate in Parliament is through submitting a petition,” official instructions on the Parliamentary website reads. “Procedures for dealing with petitions are set out in the rules of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.”
According to Parliament, there are two different types of petitions – special petitions, and public/general petitions.
A special petition is made when an individual requests personal relief from the State, while a public petition requires a group of citizens to request general relief or redress of a grievance.
“The National Assembly requires that a petition be formally presented by a Member of Parliament (MP), for consideration. Therefore the petition must be supported by an MP. You are entitled to approach any MP by contacting them or by visiting the Constituency Office closest to you to seek their assistance with presenting a petition on your behalf,” the Parliamentary site reads. “The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) does not require that a petition be supported by an MP. However, a petition submitted to the NCOP should be in the form prescribed by the Chairperson of the Council. The rules of the NCOP do not draw a distinction between special and general petitions.”
A petition should comply with the following requirements:
– Be in a form prescribed by the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) or the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP);
– Include the name/s and contact detail/s of the petitioner/s;
– Clearly indicate the intended recipient of the petition (to whom is the petition being addressed);
– Clearly indicate the nature of the request being made (the subject of the petition);
– Include a clear motivation for the petition;
– The petition must be in any of the official languages of South Africa;
– Be signed by the petitioner(s) themselves (unless the Speaker or Chairperson decides otherwise);
– Not contain improper or disrespectful language; and
– Must indicate the nature of the relief (assistance) asked from Parliament.
Parliament advises that those submitting the petition speak to their MP beforehand, as they are there to assist with the format and content of your petition. Supporting documents must also be attached to the petition.
“Your petition will be lodged with the Secretary to Parliament to review it and confirm that it is correct in format and content, and then submitted to the Speaker of the National Assembly or the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces,” it continues.
If the petition complies with all the requirements, it will be tabled in Parliament.
If it is a special petition, it will be referred to the Committee on Private Members’ Legislative Proposals and Special Petitions in the NA or the Select Committee on Petitions and Members’ Legislative Proposals in the NCOP.
If it is a petition of a general nature, it will be referred to the relevant Portfolio or Select Committee(s) that deals with the issue(s) raised in your petition.
An approved format for your petition may be obtained from Parliament’s Clerk of the Papers. Once you have drafted your petition, it must thereafter be handed in at the office of the Clerk of the Papers.