Practical Tips: Writing Submissions to Government & Parliament

by Daniela Ellerbeck
7 December 2016

by Adv. Nadene Badenhorst, Legal Counsel of FOR SA

British Statesman Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.

The draft Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, and the regulation of all aspects of religion as proposed in the CRL Rights Commission’s recent Report on the “Commercialisation” of Religion, pose a major threat to the religious freedom we, as believers, have enjoyed in South Africa up to now.

Yes, we must pray – with a sense of urgency and fervency, knowing that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective (James 5:16)!  But we must also exercise the democratic rights we have been given as citizens of South Africa, to protect our religious freedom – not just for now, but for generations to come.

Practical guidelines

The SA Constitution intends for the people of South Africa to play a part in the making of laws that govern them. This is achieved by “the people” electing the representatives who will be making those laws in Parliament, and further by giving “the people” an opportunity to have their voice heard in matters that affect them – for example, by making (written / oral) submissions to government and Parliament on new policies and legislation that affect them.

In this article, we give some practical guidelines as to what a written submission should look like, in order to be most effective.

1. The submission should be easy to read and understand. In this regard, clearly state:

  • TO WHOM the submission is addressed, e.g.

Mr T Ross
The Department of Justice
Per e-mail: [email protected]

  • WHAT the submission is ABOUT , e.g.

Re: The draft Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill

  • WHOM the submission is FROM. In this regard, the following:

1) If you are writing in an individual capacity, make sure to include your name and contact details;

2) If you are writing on behalf of an organisation or a church, state the official name of the organisation or church, the capacity in which you are representing the organisation or church, and relevant contact details (including a telephone number and e-mail address), e.g.

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
Per:  Adv Nadene Badenhorst
Legal Counsel, FOR SA
Tel:  021 – 556 5502
E-mail:  [email protected]

3) Also, if the submission is from an organisation or church, briefly explain who the organisation is and what it does, and if relevant, mention how many people it represents / has as its supporter base. (Numbers matter!) You can also mention here why the organisation has an interest in the particular Bill or issue, and why / how it will affect them.

  • WHAT CONCERNS OR COMMENTS do you have regarding the particular Bill or issue? In this regard, the following:

1) Try be as clear and concise as possible. Overly long submissions are at risk of not being read;

2) While you are free to write in the language of your choice, it is advisable to write in English as there is the risk that your submission, if written in a language which Committee members do not understand, will not be read by them;

3) Arrange sentences and paragraphs in logical order, and number pages and paragraphs for easy reference;

4) While you may, in your submission, express a firm view on (and even strongly object to!) the particular Bill or issue, please make sure that the tone and language of your submission are honouring and respectful towards those in authority who will be considering it. In particular, make sure to challenge or criticise the content of the Bill or Report, rather than the author thereof – “play the ball, not the man”! A submission that is slanderous or disrespectful in any way, will not be considered;

5) While, as a person of faith, you may feel that a particular Bill or document is “the work of the devil”, a fulfilment of end-time prophecies etc, such comments are not helpful in this context, and have unfortunately at times done more harm than good. Likewise, the mere quoting of Scriptures without offering constructive comments on the actual content, have been shown to be ineffective and unhelpful. If we are going to get involved, let’s make sure that we are informed and that the points we make, are relevant and presented in a way that reflects the mind and heart of Christ!

  • CONCLUDING REMARKS and/or RECOMMENDATIONS. Sum up the main points of your submission, or your recommendations (e.g. as to how the Bill can be improved or amended to alleviate your concerns), in an executive summary at the beginning, or in a conclusion at the end of your submission.
  • ADDRESSING THE COMMITTEE. Clearly state whether you would like the opportunity, at the time when oral submissions are made, to address the Committee in person.

2. Make sure to submit the submission by the deadline date, otherwise it will probably not be taken into consideration!

3. To the extent possible, retain proof of delivery of the submission on the relevant Committee (e.g. by requesting a “read receipt” if sent by e-mail). It would also be helpful if you were (in respect of the Hate Speech Bill, and CRL Report) to Cc a copy of your submission to [email protected] so that we also have record of your submission.

We trust that this will help you in preparing your written submissions.

In the words of the late Dene Smuts MP: “There are two approaches to opposition lawmaking work: making a noise and making a difference”.

This is our opportunity to not just make noise, but a difference! Let’s use it wisely and well – for the good of our country, and to the glory of God!

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Having obtained a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch, Nadene was awarded a scholarship to study a LL M degree in International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex, United Kingdom which she obtained cum laude.