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Western Cape Children’s Commissioner calls for expanded powers

Western Cape Children’s Commissioner calls for expanded powers
The Western Cape’s Commissioner for Children Christina Nomdo. (Photo: Government Information and Communication Services)

Three years ago, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde appointed the country’s first commissioner for children. Commissioner Christina Nomdo says her office needs more powers to perform more than just an oversight role.

Western Cape Children’s Commissioner Christina Nomdo is beginning her fourth year in office and is calling for more powers. Currently, the office performs an oversight role and can only make recommendations to departments. 

“We do not have the power that the Human Rights Commission, for example, has for redress,” Nomdo said, speaking to Daily Maverick from her Cape Town office.

“The enforcement part of what I am recommending [to departments] is still falling short within the law. The law will need to be evolved.” 

Nomdo said the children’s commissioner is not truly independent as it still falls within the bureaucracy of the Office of the Premier.

“Our mandate is limited to four departments. The law needs to evolve if this office is to become a serious institution on the basis of international principles.”

The Western Cape became the only province with a children’s commissioner after Premier Alan Winde approved Nomdo’s appointment in 2020. The commissioner is mandated to protect and promote the rights, needs and interests of children in the Western Cape by working with the departments of education, health, social development, and cultural affairs and sport.

Nomdo was speaking to Daily Maverick a day after the tragic incident in which five children died while being transported to school when the vehicle they were in crashed in Mitchells Plain.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Unimaginable tragedy’ as five pre-teen learners killed in horror smash in Cape Town

The driver, Mninikhaya Mveli, made a brief appearance at the Mitchells Plain Magistrates’ Court and is facing culpable homicide and reckless driving charges.

“All our children should be able to go to school safely,” said Nomdo. “Scholar transport is a dangerous issue in our country and it is sad that children lost their lives.”

She said the issue of unsafe scholar transport receives more attention after such tragedies, but that learners face unsafe conditions every day. Children living in farms around the province travel to school in unsafe conditions and the Western Cape Education Department is not doing well in providing safe scholar transport, she said.

“There is no way that someone can make the claim that we are providing safe transport for all children in the province, because we see the evidence to the contrary.” 

Nomdo said her achievements since being appointed include building models for children to realise their right to participate in democracy.

Children’s participation rights

“Child protection is the role of the parents and [the Department of] Social Development, but nobody is making sure that children’s participation rights are being fulfilled. As the office, we developed a model so that children can speak directly to decision-makers.” 

To develop this model, she travelled across the province speaking to children and helped add their voices to reports that are sent to heads of departments for consideration.

The office has also appointed child monitors who in the past wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa and have visited Parliament to make submissions. The child monitors have visited the African Union to support the appointment of national children’s commissioners. 

“We have had a good relationship of building an institution in partnership with children and we are currently teaching children to read and analyse government budgets,” said Nomdo. 

Corporal punishment

She said it was shocking that in 2023 corporal punishment still existed in SA schools despite being banned in 1997. 

Statistics South Africa released a report in February which found that in 2019, just over one million out of 13 million schoolchildren aged 5-17  reported experiencing some form of violence at school.

“We were in the Cape Flats and children told us they are being hit with dusters and getting pinched in this day and age. Violence is endemic in our society,” said Nomdo.

“Children tell us they face violence in their homes. Their homes are sometimes one of the most dangerous places they need to survive. Fourteen and 15-year-olds are the most vulnerable to die in the violence in places like the Cape Flats.” 

Gang violence

Nomdo said in Hanover Park, an area known for gang violence, teachers have a code that is announced when classes must be locked because gangs are coming to shoot each other on school grounds.

“This is not a life for our children. That is why the vision for this institution is to ask us to rethink childhood. We must remake and reinvent childhood because it is not only about the future of our society, but it is about what our society is today.”

The office is expected to hold workshops over the school holidays where children will analyse municipal budgets and make submissions to municipalities to consider their needs when passing budgets. DM


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