Camila Rodriguez '16 Witnesses Democracy Take Shape in South Africa
I would greet you in the language of the country where I am currently living, but with 11 official languages in South Africa, I'll stick to, "Hello from Cape Town." I am spending the summer interning at the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), an NGO that was established in 1995 as a type of watchdog that oversees parliamentary committees.
NGOs and other interest groups use the reports generated by PMG as a tool to keep tabs on the legislation coming out of parliament. Foreign nationals and foreign government officials also use the website as a source of information. Currently, PMG not only reports on parliamentary committees, but also reports on important parliamentary proceedings, such as swear-in ceremonies for members of parliament or the president's state of the nation address. They publish the articles on a separate website called The People's Assembly. The idea is to use the other website as a means to reach the youth and be a bridge between citizens and their government.
As an intern, I was a monitor as well as an analyst for The People's Assembly website. As a monitor, I would attend parliamentary committees twice a week and report on the proceedings of the meetings. I would also edit other monitors' reports. As an analyst for The People's Assembly, I wrote articles using the constitution and analyzing the role of government in a manner that would appeal to the youth and that would be understood by the average citizen. I was also tasked with exploring ideas that would help PMG grow and reach more citizens in South Africa. Although these were my official tasks, this summer was particularly interesting because the government was starting a new term. As an intern at PMG, I was able to attend the swear-in ceremony for the members of parliament and participate in other inaugural activities. These opportunities were special because these first days of parliament are full of legal issues and tension among party members. For example, during the swear-in ceremony for new members of parliament, where the president is elected, the chief justice of the supreme court who heads the ceremony had to interpret the language of parliamentary rules every time someone raised an alleged violation by another party, which happened often because tensions run high during these sessions.
During my internship, I was also able to meet government officials outside of parliament. For example, the British High Commission hosted a function to commemorate President Zuma's state of the nation address, and I was able to meet ministers and members of parliament during these types of events. Meeting officials outside of parliament added another layer to monitoring parliament at the committees. When I spoke to these officials, I was able to get new insight to the way that they were thinking and the reasons behind the motions and arguments that they made during committee meetings. This information was important when writing about and engaging in South African government. Even though South Africa has come a long way since apartheid, racial issues are ever present in South African politics, and understanding where people stood was a must when analyzing laws and the government in South Africa.
Overall, my experience was a diverse one. South Africa is a place with warm hearts and beautiful scenery. I met people from every spectrum of life and I made amazing friends who were excited to take me under their wings and show me their world. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to live there for the summer, and I hope to take what I learned in South Africa and use it to grow personally and professionally.