State institutions supporting constitutional democracy

UNDER the Democracy Strengthening Programme, the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) is on a mission to build public knowledge on powers given and support provided for democracy to work.

The strength of democracy lies on how active people are in governance, in planning and decision-making. A healthy democracy is when people are able to hold government accountable and have strong two-way communication lines between government and the public.

To kick-off this knowledge journey is to enhance public understanding on the purpose of these institutions that are established and formed to support democracy. How does the public benefit from these institution and what benefit are such institutions to the country? Firstly, why are they called Chapter Nine Institutions?

These are institutions independent of government, subject only to the Constitution and the law, and report annually to Parliament, established under the Chapter Nine of the South African Constitution (Act No. 108 of 1996). Chapter Nine Institutions consist of the Public Protector (PP), the Auditor General (AG), the Electoral Commission (IEC), the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE), and lastly, the Commission for the Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities. No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of these institutions.

More often people would struggle and sit with human rights violations which could have been resolved with the help and support from the Chapter Nine Institutions.

The purpose of the Democracy Strengthening Programme is for people to use the information they are gaining monthly to change and transform their lives, and their communities.

South African Human Rights Commission

The mandate of the Commission (as contained in Section 184 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996) is to promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights; promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights; and monitor and assess the observance of human rights in the Republic. The Commission has the powers, as regulated by the national legislation, to investigate and report on the observance of human rights; take steps and secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated; carry out research; and educate. Each year, the Commission must require relevant organs of state to provide the Commission with information on the measures that they have taken towards the realisation of the rights in the Bill of Rights concerning housing, healthcare, food, water, social security, education and the environment.

Office of the Public Protector

The Public Protector is appointed by Parliament in terms of the Constitution and receives its mandate from the Public Protector Act of 1994. It receives complaints from aggrieved or distressed persons against government departments, agencies or officials; and has the power to; investigate; mediate, conciliate and negotiate; recommend corrective action; and issue reports. This means if a South African citizen is denied his/her constitutional right (according to the Chapter Two of the Constitution) by a government department, agency or official, that person should first try to resolve the issue with the department by engaging management or leadership, if not assisted then lodge a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector.

Who can be investigated by the Public Protector?

The Public Protector has powers to investigate maladministration, improper conduct, improper acts by government at any level (national, provincial and local government).

Any person(s) performing a public function, this includes anyone performing any official duty which affects all or part of the people of South Africa, for example a government employee.

The Public Protector investigates public entities such as the SABC, Eskom and Telkom; and statutory councils, for example the Human Sciences Research Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

There are strong working relations between the SA Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Public Protector, where they refer and follow-up of complaints that do not fit within their mandates. If you would like to lodge a complain, e-mail

For further engagement with these Chapter Nine Institutions on human rights violations please contact them at SAHRC: (031 304 7323) and the Pietermaritzburg Office of the Public Protector (033 346 0794), PACSA (033) 342 0052 ( — Supplied.

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