Digital Transformation

5 min

Adapting the Parliamentary Process in South Africa During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Parliament of South Africa

Written on September, 2020

Strategic Partners


The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of daily life, and the functioning of governments and legislative bodies has been no exception. In South Africa, the pandemic has forced the Parliament to adapt to new ways of working, adopting virtual platforms for meetings and taking other measures to ensure the continuity of their operations. This essay explores the steps taken by the Parliament of South Africa to continue its work during the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown, as well as the implications of these adaptations for the future of parliamentary processes in the country.


The Impact of Covid-19 on the Parliament of South Africa


In South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to widespread infections, including among members of parliament and parliamentary staff. In response to the pandemic, the South African government enacted the Disaster Management Act on March 27, 2020, which imposed strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus. These measures restricted movement between provinces and in and out of the country, limited mass gatherings, and imposed curfews, all of which had significant implications for the functioning of the Parliament.


Adapting to Virtual Platforms


To continue their work during the lockdown, the Parliament adopted virtual platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom for internal communication, planning, and hosting meetings, plenaries, and committee meetings. Other platforms, such as Cisco Webex, Huawei, T-Mobile, and GTC Connect, were also explored, but Microsoft Teams and Zoom were found to be the best solutions. WhatsApp groups were created for both small and large teams to facilitate communication, and email, telephone calls, and text messages were also utilized.


Embracing Hybrid Plenaries and Special Events


Between the beginning of the lockdown and September 2020, over 600 virtual meetings were held for parliamentary committees, and 21 hybrid plenaries took place in the National Assembly, with a total of 120 hours of virtual hybrid plenaries. The National Council of Provinces held 17 virtual plenaries during the same period, with over 100 hours of virtual plenaries. Hybrid plenaries involved a limited number of members being physically present in the Parliament chambers, while others participated via virtual platforms.


Challenges and Adaptations


Several challenges arose during the transition to virtual platforms, including technical issues, etiquette breaches, and the need for training for some members. However, the Parliament was able to adapt and overcome these challenges by implementing strict rules for virtual meetings, verifying participants, and providing training and support for members who needed it. Members were provided with laptops, cellphones, tablets, and allowances for internet connectivity to facilitate their participation in virtual sessions.


The Future of Parliamentary Processes in South Africa


The adoption of virtual platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that parliamentary processes can be effectively carried out remotely. Many members have embraced the new way of working, noting the convenience and efficiency of virtual platforms, especially for those who must travel long distances to Cape Town. Moving forward, it is likely that South Africa’s Parliament will continue to use virtual platforms for public participation and other aspects of its work, while still maintaining some in-person interactions for those who prefer traditional methods of engagement.


Balancing Virtual Platforms and Face-to-Face Interactions


The experience of the South African Parliament during the Covid-19 pandemic offers valuable insights into how legislative bodies can adapt and continue their work under challenging circumstances. The adoption of virtual platforms has not only allowed the Parliament to maintain its core functions but has also demonstrated the potential for greater flexibility and efficiency in the future. By embracing technology and adapting to changing conditions, the South African Parliament has ensured the continuity of democratic processes and public participation during a time of crisis.




It is essential to consider the potential drawbacks of relying heavily on virtual platforms for parliamentary processes. Issues related to cybersecurity, data privacy, and digital inequality must be addressed to ensure that these platforms remain secure and accessible to all members of society. Additionally, it is important to strike a balance between the convenience of virtual platforms and the need for face-to-face interactions, which can foster collaboration, trust, and a sense of community among members of parliament and the public.

The South African Parliament’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the potential for legislative bodies to adapt to new ways of working under extraordinary circumstances. By adopting virtual platforms and implementing necessary adaptations, the Parliament has ensured the continuity of its core functions and maintained democratic processes during a challenging time. As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, the experiences of the South African Parliament can serve as an example for other legislative bodies seeking to adapt and maintain their operations in the face of adversity. While the future of parliamentary processes in South Africa and beyond will likely continue to evolve in response to changing conditions and technological advancements, the lessons learned during this time will undoubtedly inform the development of more resilient, flexible, and efficient legislative processes moving forward.

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