20 June 2003


Truly, the tide has turned

" Since 1994, we have entered into a social contract, as South Africans that, central to the realisation of our strategic goal is the eradication of poverty and the defeat of underdevelopment in every corner of our country... We celebrate freedom because it has given us the possibility to deliver services to the people in the last nine years that have not been delivered throughout the years of white minority rule.

Thabo Mbeki - Freedom Day Celebrations 27 April 2003


Foreword

Nkosinathi Nhleko, Chief Whip of the Majority PartyThis month Sephadi celebrates one year in circulation as an ANC Caucus newsletter. We say happy birthday to Sephadi.

We remain committed to improving the quality and quantity of this publication. We started last year in June, 2002, with 500 copies and currently we produce 10 000 copies with the same amount of resources.

While continuing to reflect on transformational legislation, we have added constituency work as part of the focal point of the newsletter. May we also thank Members for increasing the number of articles contributed.

Sephadi would like to add its voice to the millions who, on May 25, took the opportunity to thank and salute the Organisation of African Unity. Recalling that, as we struggled against the monster of apartheid, independent Africa accepted, and through the Organisation of African Unity, firmly stated that it was not possible for African countries to achieve full independence while South Africa remained under colonial rule.

Independent Africa understood then that, for her to embark fully on the road to real social and economic emancipation, as is now being done through the African Union and NEPAD, the twin scourge of colonialism and racism had to be extricated from the African continent so that women and men of Africa can then begin to engage, in a programmatic manner, the challenge of underdevelopment and poverty, and as equals, chart a new future characterized by the reawakening of our continent.

We have, of course, made huge strides in the reconstruction of the health sector, improving the accessibility of services and transforming the entire delivery system. Today millions of women and children have access to free medical care at places nearer where they live.

However, many challenges in that sector and others remain.

The inhuman system of colonial land dispossessions coupled with the sexist and racist migrant labour policies, had a profound impact on African family life and gender relations. Apart from creating single parents out of married couples, and the many other family related problems attendant thereto, that political economic system led to the direct exclusion of women from participating, meaningfully, in the economic life of our society. Much as meaningful economic participation by black men, and Africans in particular, was restricted in colonialist apartheid rule, women suffered the worst forms of marginalisation, the majority of whom found themselves confined to rural life.

As a consequence, while women make the majority of our population, they nevertheless, constitute a disturbingly small percentage of the leadership of our economic, political and social life.

As we take a break from parliament, it is going to be important that we engage our constituency work in a serious manner so as to complement our election campaign programmes.

Happy birthday SEPHADI!


Health - A Better Life for All

James Ngculu - MP Chairperson Health Portfolio CommitteeJAMES NGCULU - Chair: Portfolio Committee on Health

T ruly, the tide has turned, in the mere space of nine years, the government has brought changes that have completely confounded both friend and foe.

Indeed, we have responded to the challenge of our epoch, that of transforming ourselves from the status of objects of history to that of masters of history.

A true testimony that we are indeed masters of our history is testified by the budget introduced by the Minister of Finance in February 2003, which was hailed by all as a good budget. A budget that puts more money into social spending with health getting significant increases.

As the former President, comrade Nelson Mandela stated in 1999 " the profound changes of the past (few years) make the distance traversed seem so short, the end so sudden". No one who is honest can deny that progress has been made in particular in the sphere of health. It might have been prominent in other aspects and hidden in some, however, the point is that progress has been made.

Yesterday, women and children could not access free medical care and at places nearer to where they live. Today we boast of the monuments of freedom by the number of clinics and hospitals dotted in the length and breadth of our country. Today, pregnant women, the elderly, children and the disabled have access to free health care. Where it could have taken kilometres, at great cost, to reach services, now they are nearby.

Yesterday, some hospitals were dilapidated and in a poor state. Today through the Hospital Revitalisation programme we have seen great improvements in hospitals. These include the building of new hospitals, the facelift and refurbishment of existing facilities, the purchasing of new equipment as well as decentralizing management. We have at least two major projects under way in each province that will result in brand new state of the art hospitals.

Recognising health as a not-for-profit commodity, the ANC-led government has introduced measures that regulates the private medical industry and also recognises that our responsibilities extend beyond our immediate family. Hence the provision for dependents from an extended family.

As the ANC we have stood firm in our belief that our people should have access to cheaper medicines. We have therefore challenged the pharmaceutical multinationals to reduce their prices by introducing legislation that achieves this. We have also introduced legislation to increase access to pharmacies especially in rural and underserved areas. A number of doctors have been deployed to rural areas to broaden access to health care.

Yesterday, the quality of care and service to patients was far from satisfactory. Today we can boast of improvements in this regard through Batho - Pele, the Patient Rights Charter and the National Policy on Quality. These policies are aimed at improving the quality of care by giving patients the opportunity to complain about poor services, strengthening the supervisory system, providing for accreditation of health facilities and providing for peer review. The national patient complaint system has been strengthened together with the system to monitor conduct of patient satisfaction surveys and implementation of corrective measures. Patients and communities have now mechanisms to ventilate their problems with regard to treatment and service. We will continue to strive for a more caring society and a responsive health system.

Yesterday many children left home hungry and left school hungry thus undermining significantly the capacity to learn and nutritional well-being.

Today, the Integrated Nutrition Programme has seen a dramatic jump from R500m to a billion Rands this financial year. There is also strong emphasis on standardized menus and food fortification.

As a diverse society with a variety of health seeking treatments we have legally recognised the importance of Allied Health Professionals. We are currently in the process of finalising policy on African traditional medicine and regulation of traditional health practitioners.

HIV/AIDS continue to present us with serious challenges. It is a challenge the government has grabbed with both hands. As ANC we are committed to fighting this scourge of disease.We are indeed gratified to see a marked increase in the allocation to Enhanced Response to HIV/AIDS, STIs and TB to the tune of R3,3 billion over the MTEF.

We state the obvious; we base our response on HIV/AIDS on the comprehensive Strategic Plan that addresses prevention, treatment and care, research and human rights.

Our prevention programme is regarded as the best on the continent. Most provinces are now extending the PMTCT programme to more facilities and about 658 hospitals and clinics are now providing these facilities. By the end of 2002, VCT was available in 982 sites throughout the country. 665 HBC facilities have been introduced exceeding the target given by Cabinet of 500 sites by 2002.

The national Department of Health initiated a range of activities to assist provinces in some of these programmes. These included the appointment of coordinators and administrative staff in key programmes of VCT, HBC and PMTCT. Already, 2000 Home-based Careers have been trained nationally as well as 180 master trainers for VCT at 20 per province.

A number of measures are being implemented in the arena of treatment including early and effective treatment of opportunistic infections, strengthening the immune system including improved nutrition, the use of anti-retroviral therapy at appropriate stages of illness. There are measures the government is involved in which are aimed at lowering the cost of treatment including legislative processes.

The clarion call that all of us should respond to- is the need to embrace the call for partnership and to lend a caring hand. The issues are not new. They are found in government documentation, cabinet statements of the 17th of April 2002 and the 19th of March 2003. These statements are further testimony of the commitment of our government to meeting its obligation.

Many South Africans and some who are not South African, including the President of the UNAIDS and the Executive Director of the Global Fund have hailed our programmes and achievements. Yet among us as South Africans, we treat this as another political football where some of us are prepared to celebrate death as long as it fits a particular agenda.

We observed with awe and disbelief the alacrity with which certain circles tried to seize on the Human Rights Commission 4th Report on Economic and Social Rights. As usual the negative was seized as the defining aspect of the report.

  1. The first shortcoming of this report is that the context is limited to Constitutional aspects of the assessment but falls short of the changing dynamics of South Africa. South Africa of 2000 is different to South Africa of 2003.Thus the report fails to acknowledge this simple fact where the country comes from and progress she continues to make and the way ahead including improvement in the quality of life of especially the poor.
  2. On HIV/AIDS, the report seems to confuse the matter of PMTCT and access generally of ARV`s in public health institutions. It thus calls on the government to implement the Constitutional Court ruling on Nevirapine, as if this has been in dispute. It calls for more allocation of more resources to HIV/AIDS treatment without examining the totality of the campaign, the comprehensive issue of treatment itself and progressively increasing budgets to this programme. I have just highlighted the two aspects above due to space and time.

There are of course some people who continue to peddle a sustained lie that our government is uncaring and doing nothing in the field of health in general and HIV/AIDS in particular.

We are daily treated to a platitudinous refrain that six hundred people die every day. We are treated to an insidious argument that has tended to trivialize human suffering in order to serve egos and nefarious agendas that scavenges on the suffering and death of our people.

Some have declared civil disobedience against a government led by a movement that steadily fought for this democracy. In this campaign no one is immune as their views take precedence over others. Any attempts to engage in dialogue is treated with scorn. Elected representatives of the people being called murderers, is a serious attack on the very tenet of democracy.

As comrades and concerned citizens we have to stand together to work towards a better health care system.

This is also the response to Cabinet`s call for forging partnerships to ensure a better life for all we will continue to engage with all people of South Africa and the world until we defeat this disease.

The colonial/apartheid legacy we inherited will not be eradicated in the mere space of nine years. This is the mess that has taken over three centuries to create. This is the mess that has taken over three centuries to create.To address this legacy effectively we need to confront it with the same commitment as we did the struggle against apartheid.

We are approaching the First Decade of Freedom with a sense of satisfaction and confidence. Satisfied that we have managed in the mere space of nine years to improve the quality of life, to transform our segregated society and to deliver services where they never existed before to usher in a sense of hope.

Confident that this sense of hope has imbued our people with pride knowing that the ANC has remained truthful to them. The ANC is unrivalled in its policies and programmes to improve the socio-economic conditions of our people.

In conclusion I would like to commend the cadre of health workers, the men and women who toil in the NGO and CBO sectors and who provide quality services under trying circumstances.

There are still challenges that lie ahead, but we are encouraged by the fact that indeed the tide has turned.


A Servant of the People

Joice Kgoali, Chairperson of ANC CaucusVusi "Cuba" Mahaye, Editor of Sephadi speaks to Chairperson of ANC Caucus.

When she first took up employment at Bond Clothing in 1969, like all Black parents toiling under apartheid, African National Congress (ANC) MP Joyce Kgoali merely wanted to make ends meet and maintain her family.

But the harsh, degrading and inhuman treatment meted out against her and other employees inspired Comrade Kgoali to fight apartheid and racial discrimination wherever it reared its ugly head. Due to financial constraints, she left school in 1969 while doing standard eight. The very same year, she was employed at the Bond Clothing Company, but the cruel treatment of Black people, like having to take breakfast in a dirty and unhealthy shed that looked like a "pigsty", brought the employees together and they formed a trade union movement. Although subscriptions were "still collected by hand", many members could not raise the funds due to the meagre salaries they earned. In 1987 she joined K and R Clothing and was elected shopsteward.

In 1993 she was employed as SA Clothing and Textile Workers` Union (Sactwu) organiser. She was deployed to the Gauteng legislature and became the chairperson of Housing, Public Works and Transport.

In 1999 she was again deployed to the legislature as an MPL and Whip, this until she was redeployed to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) as a provincial whip. She is also serving as, among others, a member of the ANC`s political committee and Chairperson of Committees in the NCOP.

She is a serving member of both the ANC and ANC Women`s League Provincial Executive Committee in Gauteng. Comrade Kgoali was the first woman MP to be chairperson of the ANC caucus in May 2002. She is also an MP in the National Council of Provinces.

Like many South African women, her kids expect motherly love from her, but the reality is that she is too busy to meet their expectations -not that she loves them less.

Kgoali stays in Pimville, Soweto, and her constituency includes Moletsane, Tladi, Naledi, Zola, Emdeni and Jabulani. Most residents of these areas are victims of forced removals by the apartheid government. These are the people who were later dumped on barren land, with no proper infrastructure. The challenges facing this constituency are poverty and unemployment.

But she is positive about government interventions, in an attempt to improve the people`s lives and pushing back the frontiers of poverty. " There are a number of interventions in this regard. These range from the utilisation of unused land for small scale farming, social grants, feeding schemes, community projects such as Zivuseni, whose intention is to create jobs." Close planning with Councillors in this regard is of great importance in order to work in a systematic manner. Comrade Kgoali has to shuttle frantically between these constituencies. Before breakfast she has met three groups from the community, then dashes off to the office. Her diary reveals a busy schedule. She was still discussing a local project when the phone rang. She postpones the project meeting and has to rush off to another house in the neighbourhood.

Upon arrival, she meets an elderly woman of about 70 years who had been locked out of the house by her own son because of a family dispute. This woman tells Comrade Kgoali that she had had nothing to eat since the early hours of the morning. Fearing that the son may assault his mother upon his return from work, Kgoali buys food and organises a safe place for her to sleep.

As though this problem was not enough, another three people approach her complaining about how frustrating and slow the process of social and pension grants is.

The emotions are calmer now after she arranges a meeting with the various departments to address the matter the following day. Comrade Kgoali realises that she is running late for her ANCWL meeting in the Vaal region, some 100km away.

It is five o`clock and she leaves the meeting indicating that she must not be late for the next one (ANC). Arriving at Ekurhuleni on time, they have not yet started. She gets a chance to eat her "late lunch". The meeting lasts from 20h00 to 22h30.

We drive back home and arrive only to discover that Comrade Kgoali`s family is already asleep. I was leaving when she invited me for another constituency trip for the following day. But I was not prepared to be a slave of endless meetings and lengthy roads. What touched me, though, was when she indicated that she at least felt safer driving with somebody else than to be behind the wheel alone during the night.


"Responsibility does not come with age."

Charlotte Lobe, MP-NA (Whip) Provincial and Local Government Portfolio CommitteeVusi "Cuba" Mahaye and Simphiwe Xako, Sephadi Team speak to Charlotte Lobe, MP.

In 1987 a young school girl, doing standard five at Leshomi High School, in Botshabelo, was arrested and detained for 90 days, under Section 90 of Security Act. Her "sin" was that there was graffiti on her classroom wall which read ALUTA CONTINUA!

At the age of fourteen, Charlotte Lobe was a member of the Student Representative Council and not aware of the political crisis in the country. Her arrest was, therefore, a surprise because she did not have a clue what the writing stood for.

Her detention at the Ramakraal prison, Bloemfontein, turned into political induction. This is where she met members of the congress movement for the first time. Though she was released after a national outcry for the release of child prisoners, the incident left a lasting mark in her mind.After being involved in the struggle for liberation, under the guidance of the African National Congress Youth League. She was deployed to the National Assembly (NA) as an MP in 1999. Comrade Lobe, the youngest National Assembly MP at 30, argues that our youth today does not have the pressure that her generation experienced, things are more relaxed and the opening of opportunities means that they are exposed to western culture. The point, however, is that we must continue to expose them to realities of our continuing struggle against poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and many more.

She further notes that we must not blame this younger generation for enjoying the fruits of the struggle, but the challenge is to educate them to defend and advance this revolution. Maturity and responsibility do not come with age. Youth must participate in decision-making and influence the future direction. The youth must be keen to know what parliament is and its role. Parliament itself must reach out to the youth as a sector and engage with them. The establishment of Umsobomvu fund and Youth Commission is a demonstration that this government is concerned about the youth. Like the generation of Sisulu and Mandela, our youth must take a lead. The youth can afford to enjoy one-sided freedom of social benefit and fail to exercise obligations coming with this liberation amongst others to vote and vote correctly.

She dismisses any attempt to label MPs as lazy people who are nowhere to be found during constituency period. "It depends where do you want them to be. Most of the MPs do engage with their constituency during this period. If people expect us to sit in our constituency offices, that is a wrong understand about our work. Ours is a revolutionary duty to go where our people are. Office appointments we honour as requested but that is not our place for working but is for consultation.

Office appointments we honour as requested but that is not our place for working but is for consultation."

Constituency work must be understood at three levels where you service a geographical area, sector and political work as an activists across boundaries and sectors.

She has been part of Youth Congress since 1987 - Botshabelo Youth and Student Congress. With unbanning of the ANC she became part of leadership of ANCYL at different level until being elected to the PEC and to the NEC in 1998. Presently she is the Deputy-Secretary for the Free State ANC PEC. In the NA she serves in the Provincial and Local and Intelligence Portfolio Committees.

She describes Botshabelo before 1994 as a place where there were no street lights. Electricity was found only in the section where civil servants lived, which was 5% of the population.

People were drawing water from communal taps which were quite a distance. The whole shanty area used the bucket system.There were few clinics and schools, with a lot of dropouts because of un-affordability. Today Botshabelo, like many other areas in SA, has street lamps and electricity. Many households have water taps. The replacement of bucket system is in progress. RDP houses and self-built decent homes are all over the place - relatively better living standards. More than three clinics have been built and schools are available within a reasonable distance and more educational opportunities.

Asked about three priorities, she mentions the complete removal of the bucket system, establishing an institute for skills development. and investment that can boost the economy.

She agrees that the tide has truly turned, but she immediately warns, "government cannot do everything. Communities must enter into partnership with government and business. They must hold their destiny firm in their hands.".Youth must lead this battle at all cost like heroes of June 16th ,1976 , who were convince that without weapons they will defeat the mighty force of apartheid. We are proud that their act inspired, future generation of youth.


Women and parliament

Lulu Xingwana – MP, ANCWL NEC Spokesperson and Chairperson of Women’s Parliamentary CaucusLulu Xingwana - MP, ANCWL NEC Spokesperson and Chairperson of Women`s Parliamentary Caucus

No time in history vividly marks the power of South African women as 1956, when thousands marched to Pretoria in protest against pass laws and the notorious 1913 Land Act.

The struggle of South African women, under the banner of the African National Congress Women`s League (ANCWL) has been a long, effective and disciplined one. They have always been at the forefront in the concerted effort to dismantle apartheid. Women also fought for recognition within their own organisation, the ANC - which they achieved in 1943.

Prior to the elections in 1994, the ANC adopted the quota system for women, whereby in all its lists every third candidate was a woman. This was the result of a major campaign by the ANCWL at the first consultative conference after the unbanning of the ANC in 1990. This raised the percentage of women in the South African Parliament in 1994 to 27%, and we ranked seventh worldwide in terms of representation of women in legislatures.

After the elections, the Constituent Assembly was formed. Many of the women who were elected into Parliament participated in the Constituent Assembly (CA), and spearheaded the engendering of the final Constitution and the Bill of Rights of SA.

Our Constitution has an equality clause that has been included in the Bill of Rights. This clause supersedes religious and customary rights to ensure that the rights of women are protected at all times. The Charter of women`s rights informed the gendering of our new constitution.

The ANC in its national conference in Mafikeng in 1997 amended its constitution to include a clause advocating affirmative action and a one-third quota for women in all its structures, delegations and candidates` lists. This is now a constitutional right that empowers women at all levels in the ANC.

The ANC has also set up, within its National Executive Committee, a subcommittee on gender, whose main focus is to ensure that all ANC policies and programmes are gender sensitive. Committing other parties to follow ANC example is necessary.

The Multi-party women`s caucus also plays an important role in uniting women on issues of common interest and ensuring that women speak in one voice. The presence of women in such institutions makes a qualitative and quantitative difference in the type of legislation that is proposed and passed into law.

There is evidence that the presence of women decision-makers does influence the outcome or even the issues debated.

Of the twelve countries with the highest proportion of women in Parliament, all use either proportional representation voting systems, or mixed systems. Eight of these twelve countries also have major parties that set quotas for women candidates, but only Argentina has a national law requiring a certain percentage of women candidates from all parties. None have seats reserved for women.

SADC is the leading region in gender representivity in Africa. South Africa, Mozambique and the Seychelles are in the top twelve countries of the world as far as the representation of women in legislatures is concerned. Lesotho, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana have improved women representation. In South Africa the high proportion of women MPs is largely as a result of the African National Congress adopting a one-third quota for candidates lists. Presently, South Africa has among the highest percentage of women parliamentarians in the world (30%). There has been a steady increase in the number of women ministers and deputy ministers in South Africa`s cabinet since the first democratic elections. Cabinet currently boasts nine women ministers out of 27 ministers, and eight women deputy ministers out of 16.

Strategic Ministries like Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Minerals and Energy, Agriculture and Land, Communications and Broadcasting, Public Service and

Administration, Public Works, Housing and Health are headed women. At Deputy Minister level Trade and Industry, Justice, Defence and others are headed by women. Women are also senior office bearers in Parliament. The Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and a number of chairpersons of Parliamentary committees in both the National Assembly (eight) and NCOP ( five) are women. The Chairperson of ANC Caucus is also a woman.

The picture at the provincial and local government levels is not as positive. Only three of the nine provinces have over 30% representation of women in their legislatures: Gauteng, Northern Province and North West. Only one province has a woman premier, Free State. In our big metro cities we have only one mayor who is a woman, Cape Town. We obviously still need to work hard at these levels.

We also have women chairing the Independent Electoral Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality. Two women judges serve on the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court in the country. Women judges also serve in various provincial levels of the judiciary and more are in the process of being appointed by the Judicial Services Commission.

In 1998 the first black governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa was appointed, and early in 1999 the deputy governor who is a woman was appointed. We trust that more women will follow in these key appointments in the near future.

The Women Caucus is also involved in lot of international work. Presently they are playing a meaningful role in the Inter - Congolese dialogue. They are sharing experiences of women during the struggle, negotiations, peace building during the transitional period. The impact that women have made in parliament, achievements and gains are of high importance. The last important point is sharing experience of working together as women from different political background. SADC regional women`s parliamentary Caucus is steady but surely finding its feet.

The struggle continues but women`s presence is being felt in parliament. Recesses have been aligned with school holidays, there has been an increase in the number of toilet facilities for women, gender sensitive language has been used in drafting of legislation, Parliamentary sessions now commence earlier and close earlier than before 1994, to allow for more quality time for members of parliament and their families.

The need to educate women on their rights and protection measures given to them by legislations, need to be intensified.

This remains a great challenge.


From dompas to ID - Power of access

Patrick Chauke - Chairperson Home Affairs Portfolio Committee

The African National Congress led government came into power in 1994. Our promise to the people of this country was to make their lives better. Informed by our experience of the mass struggles of the past decades, we knew it right from the beginning that, we will not succeed in this effort if we do not have the full participation of the South African Citizens.

In an effort to improve the lives of our people, the government embarked on a number of campaigns, which include the following:

  • Free access to health care for all pregnant mothers and for children under the age of six.
  • Free access to education for all those children whose parents could not afford to pay fees, access to financial aid for all those students who attend universities and technikons.
  • Access to housing subsidy, for all South Africans developed a indigent policy for all those citizens who could not afford to pay services due to many reasons e.g.: unemployed or pensioners.
  • Access to pension grants for our matured citizens. Social grants for all the children under the age of eight for now, over the next three years to be extended until reaches the age of fourteen.

These are among the services that the South African citizens need to access, however those services cannot be accessed if a person does not have a green Bar-Coded Identity Document. This is a basic document that you need. It is an obligation of all South Africans to have it.

The African National Congress led government has committed an initial R15 million to roll out Identity Document campaign to all South Africans. This allocation is for all those people who could not afford to pay for their Identity Documents. Identity Documents are now free as from June 2003. This is another way in which our government is trying to reach out to all South Africans.

The Department of Home Affairs, as the Department charged with the responsibility in leading the campaign. The Department has 120 mobile units dispatched throughout the country for the purposes of taking services to all the people of this country in particular people in rural areas where they do not have access to Home Affairs offices.

Each and every province is required to develop a plan of how to roll out the campaign. Other provinces like the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape have already developed plans for the campaign. We call on all South Africans to listen to their radio`s, read local newspapers and phone their local Home affairs offices to inquire about the campaign. People can also visit the Department website. www.home-affairs.gov.za

All these services are possible because we are a Democratic society, a society that is at work to extend the frontiers of prosperity. In an effort to retain what we have already achieved and work for more achievements. South Africans will be going to the polls for the third time next year. The Independent Electoral Commission {IEC} is charged with the responsibility to conduct the elections. They have also appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs and they have outlined their plan and the Portfolio Committee is satisfied.

The IEC is busy developing a plan for voter registration drive for later in the year. The main target is those first time voters who will be turning 18 just before the elections next year. June is the youth development month, we call upon the youth structures and organisations to help the IEC by mobilising the youth to go and register for elections. The Electoral commission will be visiting various schools throughout the country and various campuses to ensure that all eligible South Africans are not denied a right to choose a government of their choice.

The second group of people are those people who have changed places of residence over the last five years. Those would need to re-register. We call on all South Africans to support the Electoral Commission in this drive to register eligible voters. All South Africans must support our institutions that are charged with the responsibility to safeguard our democracy.