By: Thoboloko Ntšonyane

CAPE TOWN – The Pan African Parliament (PAP) recognizes the media as a crucial partner in its mission to enhance transparency, accountability, and public engagement of this continental parliament across the African continent.

This comes to light during a recent training held in Cape Town, South Africa (SA) when and where PAP gathers 21 journalists from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region for training aimed at enhancing their reporting capacities on parliamentary matters.

PAP is the legislative body of the AU that aims to provide a common platform for African citizens to participate in discussions and decision-making processes related to the challenges and opportunities facing the continent.

Addressing the journalists the PAP Clerk Lindiwe Khumalo says this step highlights PAP’s recognition of the media’s pivotal role in bridging the gap between the parliament and the African citizens.

PAP is convened to bring the African people closer to the African Union (AU) adding that citizens are entitled to a voice hence the birth of PAP.

Khumalo expresses keen interest in forging a partnership with the media as part of its broader strategy to strengthen democratic governance and integration in Africa

It held its inaugural sitting in 2004 in Midrand, SA.

The AU Member States are represented in PAP by a delegation of five members of their local parliaments.

It is also noteworthy that PAP is commemorating its 20th anniversary this year, marking two decades since its inaugural plenary session in 2004. This celebration coincides with the journalists training.

The training also brings to light the importance of engaging with other AU organs to enhance collaboration and coherence in reporting.

Additionally, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is discussed, emphasizing the need for journalists to report on its progress and challenge Member States that have not ratified it to do so, ensuring its effective implementation across the continent.

The Clerk underscores that the continental parliament’s role is to make a central contribution to the integration of Africa, as espoused in the Africa Agenda 2063, by ensuring that citizens interact socially through the avenues offered by the PAP.

She adds, “The integration agenda of Africa seeks to ensure that the continent views issues in a harmonized manner. Africa must speak with one voice, and at the center of this effort is the PAP.”

The clerk reiterates that the role the media plays in fostering human rights and democracy is also central.

This is in reference to the March 2024 elections during which in the parliament’s Extra-Ordinary Sitting, Chief Fortune Charumbira was re-elected as President.

These elections addressed the vacancies for President, First Vice President, and Fourth Vice President.

One of the participants, Cathy Maulidi a Times Group journalist, a local newspaper in Malawi, describes the training as “very important “ as it brings together her counterparts across the region and accords them opportunity to share challenges and best practices including the issues journalists face in reporting parliament stories in their respective countries.

“We have faced similar challenges in our countries, such as parliaments setting up rules and barring journalists from entering chambers, as well as the difficulties in getting interviews with MPs.

“This experience has been an eye-opener for us journalists. It has helped us realize that these challenges are not unique to us and has provided us with a better understanding of how to address them,” she says.

Maulidi further points out that the capacity-building programme helps stakeholders appreciate the role of PAP and ensure that the parliament is indeed open.

She also mentions the specific challenge they face in Malawi, where some Malawian representatives at PAP are not forthcoming in granting media interviews. However, upon returning to their countries, she says they will report from a better-informed position about the PAP.

Nkosinathi Shazi, a political reporter and presidential correspondent at the SA based Power FM says the days spent on the training are “eye-opening “.

He relishes the knowledge gained during the training.

“I have learned so much about Africa, the PAP, and the diverse group of our colleagues here at the PAP journalists’ training. I got to know what is happening in their countries. There is nothing I appreciate more than learning new things.

“We have been well-equipped, and more than anything, it has been a good training with great people,” he says.

The President takes a swipe at some of the ‘inaccurate’ media reports about the parliament, and challenges journalists to familiarize themselves with the PAP’s amendments and procedural roles.

PAP had been in the news for the wrong reasons, as there was chaos during elections held the May 2021 forcing the parliament to reschedule them and there were reports of some members getting physical. To this end, Chief Charumbira conceded that the parliament’s image has been “tainted.”

He emphasizes that PAP expects the media to educate citizens about the parliament. The President points out that due to the shoestring budget the parliament operates on, they are sometimes unable to hold sessions as scheduled.

“We want the media closer to the institution. We need to work jointly to build PAP,” he stresses, lamenting that Africans need to feel the benefits of Agenda 2063 and the AfCFTA.

This is PAP’s second media training after the one held in Midrand, SA in 2022.