File photo: David Ritchie

Cape Town - Catching up on leisure reading, scouring piles of documents and reports, resting and meeting poor communities are what some of the 400 MPs will be getting up to during the first recess of the new Parliament.

For some, this is a welcome break from committee meetings and the name-calling and heckling in National Assembly debates. A number, however, complain that they do not receive enough funding from Parliament to enable them to perform constituency work effectively.

One Eastern Cape MP’s constituency is about 1 000km².

The first term of Parliament, probably the busiest, began officially on June 17 with President Jacob Zuma delivering his State of the Nation address. There have been hundreds of committee meeting and up to 38 budget vote debates.

From this week until August 11, MPs will be on leave. Their constituency period ends officially on August 18.

National Freedom Party (NFP) leader and Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, who is out in the field in her home town of Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, says it is important that leaders “close the gap” between themselves and their communities.

“The perception out there is that leaders come to people when it is an election time, and after that they are conspicuous by their absence. My view has been that I should constantly be with my community, assisting them.”

The constituency allowance of roughly R560 000 for each MP was not enough for the NFP’s representatives who, as newcomers in Parliament, had the burden of setting up offices.

Phumzile van Damme, national spokeswoman for the DA, said she would be taking a short break after a strenuous election period and being initiated as an MP.

“I’m using it to catch up on a lot of reading. I’m reading performance plans, annual reports, because I’ve just been made a member of the public enterprises committee. But I’m also using this first week to get some rest because I haven’t really had a break since the elections.”

The second week would be spent on constituency work.

“I regularly visit my constituency, so I’m going to use the week to do a lot of Women’s Month activities,” Van Damme said. “I have three wards, so I’m going to touch base with them.”

ANC MPs would design programmes and report back to the party as they had on Mandela Day, their caucus spokesman, Moloto Mothapo, said.

“There are varying issues, depending on which location and community you are in. The work is a combination of office and outreach programmes. MPs also sit in the office to field concerns and grievances.”

The new term begins on August 12 and lasts five weeks.

Political Bureau