SA Joint Parliamentary Committee on HIV and AIDS Initiative
Since July 2014, AIDS Accountability International (AAI) has been actively part of a civil society initiative lobbying for the formal re-constitution of the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS under the new fifth Parliament of South Africa.
The participating organisations include the following among others:
- Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation
- National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS (NAPWA)
- Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa. (NAP-SAT+)
- Section 27
- Sonke Gender Justice
- South African National AIDS Council (Civil Society Forum)
- Treatment Action Campaign
- Wellness Foundation
- World AIDS Campaign International
Specifically, civil society in South Africa has been disappointed that so far under the new fifth Parliament, no efforts have been made by the relevant authorities to formally constitute the Joint Committee that was surprisingly omitted when the other Committees were set up at the end of June 2014. This was in the aftermath of the historic legislative elections that were held on 7th May 2014 as the country celebrated its 20th anniversary as a multi-racial democracy.
Civil society organisations collectively, have fully acknowledged the previous efforts to prioritise HIV as represented by the setting up of the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS during the 4th Parliament. The original Committee was set up belatedly during 2012. This was after the successful lobbying efforts by the civil society for the ratification of the recommendations of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC-PF) for the establishment of the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS.
Its establishment was also supported the intense process of advocacy by international partners such as Department for International Development (DFID), Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and civil society including the National Democratic Institute which had produced a research product on the role of Parliaments in HIV and AIDS.
The Committee has a very strategic role in terms of the monitoring and oversight for the South Africa National AIDS Council (SANAC) and any other HIV and AIDS related issues of national interest. It has previously done collaborative work with the Department of Health and also Correctional Services, SANAC, WACI and SWEAT, among others. It has also attempted unsuccessfully to host an all-stakeholder consultation workshops. The workshop idea could still be revisited going forward.
As such civil society recently re-affirmed its full support for the continued separate existence for the Committee. (HIV and AIDS is not just a matter for health but it is much broader. It is a national developmental issue).
Civil society has further expressed serious concerns that it was not consulted by Parliament with regards to the status and future of the Committee, at the commencement of the fifth Parliament.
As such it is the civil society’s considered view that the Presiding Officers of Parliament should make a public statement on the status of the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS including answering the following pertinent questions:
1. Is there a plan to disband the Joint Committee?
2. If not, by when will the members be selected to serve on it?
3. When will its budget be allocated?
In the meantime, civil society is lobbying to have a meeting and clarify issues with both the presiding officers for Parliament (The Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council for the Provinces).
Civil society is also seeking to consult with others relevant public officials such as the former co-Chairs of the Committee; the heads of the parliamentary caucuses for the different political parties in Parliament, the former Deputy President during the fourth Parliament and also the new Deputy President of South Africa.
In November 2014, the coalition sent a letter to the National Chairperson of SANAC, Cyril Ramaphosa.
An excerpt reads:
"As civil society, we have noted with great concern that most committees have been announced and some have begun their business but the Joint Committee on HIV and AIDS has not been instituted.
Pursuant to that at the start of July 2014, we met and resolved to approach the legislature to clarify this important matter. In particular we wrote a letter addressed to both the new Speaker of Parliament and the new Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces to publicly clarify the status of the Joint Committee or at the very minimum have a meeting with representatives of civil society. The letter was sent to the aforementioned offices at the end of July and as of today, 14th November 2014, we have not yet received either an acknowledgement of receipt of the letter nor a response. We have since then tried on several occasions to solicit a response but to no avail.
However since South African civil society deems this issue as a matter of critical national importance, we have now resolved as a collective to approach you as National Chairperson of the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) to help us clarify in no uncertain terms the status of the Joint Committee.
SA civil society, by way of this letter, requests from you, as National Chairperson of SANAC an urgent and clear response that explains the official status of the Joint Committee.
It remains vital to remember that the proportion of South Africans infected with HIV has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2012, according to the Human Sciences Research Council's (HSRC) National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey. The total number of infected South Africans now stands at 6.4-million; 1.2-million more than in 2008. Women aged between 30 and 34 and males aged 35 to 39 have the highest infection rates: 36% of females and 28.8% of males in these respective age groups contracted HIV.
We cannot afford to lose the ground that we have gained, rather we need to upscale our commitment, and response.
It remains vital that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on HIV and AIDS be reinstated. In this regard, we are also requesting for a formal meeting with you to continue discussions on the status of the Joint Parliamentary Committee."
For more information on this initiative, please contact Executive Director Daniel Molokele at daniel (at) aidsaccountability.org