Original Research

Collecting evidence on the use of parliamentary oversight tools: A South African case study

Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Francois Vreÿ, Theo Neethling
African Evaluation Journal | Vol 8, No 1 | a424 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/aej.v8i1.424 | © 2020 Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Francois Vreÿ, Theo Neethling | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 August 2019 | Published: 06 February 2020

About the author(s)

Wilhelm Janse van Rensburg, Faculty of Military Science, Stellenbosch University, Saldanha, South Africa
Francois Vreÿ, Security Institute for Governance and Leadership in Africa (SIGLA), Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Theo Neethling, Department of Political Studies and Governance, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa


Background: Parliament, through its oversight function, plays a central role in holding the executive to account. In South Africa’s 2014 Defence Review policy document, it was stated that the ‘Defence Force is in a critical state of decline’. This brings about the question whether the South African Parliament effectively held the executive to account regarding developments around defence.

Objectives: The article aims to gather evidence on the use of oversight tools by the South African Parliament over a 20-year period, within the post-1994 democratic dispensation, in order to determine the broader trajectory of parliamentary defence oversight.

Method: To determine the trajectory of oversight, this article gathered evidence on the use of internationally recognised parliamentary oversight tools by South Africa’s two parliamentary defence committees from 1994 to 2014. The period allows for a 20-year review of oversight of defence, inclusive of four full parliamentary terms. Evidence was collected on parliamentary debates, questions, special inquiries, oversight visits and the use of external audits as oversight tools.

Results: The article found that tools were used with varying degrees of success. Results for research on each oversight tool is discussed.

Conclusion: Based on evidence on the use of oversight tools, this article concludes that over a 20-year period there was a declining trajectory in parliamentary oversight of the defence portfolio. The proven applicability of the criteria utilised in this article can serve to inform evaluations of the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight, specifically at committee level.


Parliamentary oversight; Evidence gathering; Civil–military oversight tools; Parliament of South Africa; Military oversight


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