South Africa's political parties
South Africa has a vibrant multiparty political system, with 13 parties represented in
the National Assembly of Parliament.
The African National Congress (ANC) is the majority party, with 264 of the 400
National Assembly seats. The party controls eight of the country's nine provinces,
with the exception of the Western Cape, where the Democratic Alliance won the
majority in the 2009 elections. The ANC also controls five of the six metropolitan
municipalities. Nonetheless, South Africa's opposition parties remain robust and
South Africa's Parliament is made up of two houses: the National Assembly and the
National Council of Provinces. The National Assembly is the more influential, passing
legislation and overseeing executive performance. Its members are elected for a term
of five years.
All South African citizens over the age of 18 eligible to vote, if they register to do so.
So far, South Africa has had fully inclusive democratic
elections in 1994, 1999, 2004
and 2009. Before 1994, only white South Africans were allowed to vote for the
To help you get the political picture, here's a summary of the history and policies of
South Africa's major political parties – including one not officially represented in
Parliament, and one that no longer exists but is important historically.
For a list of all South African political parties registered with the Independent
Electoral Commission, visit the IEC website
African National Congress (ANC)
The African National Congress (ANC) is the governing party of South Africa,
supported by its tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions
(Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Founded in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress, it aimed to bring
Africans together to defend their rights
and fight for freedom. In 1923 its name was
changed to the African National Congress (ANC).
Following the 1960 Sharpeville massacre, the party was banned by the Nationalist
government. From 1961 organised acts of sabotage began, marking the emergence
of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC. The ANC was to be an
underground and exiled organisation for the next 30 years.
In February 1990, the government unbanned the ANC and released Nelson Mandela
and other political prisoners. The ANC was again able to openly recruit members and
establish regional structures.
In the historic 1994 elections the ANC won 62% of the vote. Nelson Mandela
became South Africa's first democratically elected president. In the 1999 elections
the party increased its majority to a point short of two-thirds of the total vote. A two-
thirds majority theoretically allows a party to change the country's Constitution.
Thabo Mbeki succeeded Mandela as president of the
ANC key objective is the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic
society. The Freedom Charter remains the party's basic policy document. Adopted in
June 1955 by the ANC and its allies, the charter lists principles on which a
democratic South Africa should be built.
In the 2004 elections the party, which declared itself to be a social democratic party,
retained its two-thirds majority (69.7%). After Mbeki resigned in 2008, a group of
former ministers - led by Mosiuoa Lekota – split away and formed the Congress of
In the 2009 elections, the ANC's majority fell to 64.9%, and Jacob Zuma
became the country's president.
The ANC is, with its tripartite alliance partners, committed to the values of the
National Democratic Revolution. This, the ANC says, "strives to achieve the liberation
of Africans in particular and black people in general from political and economic
bondage. It means uplifting the quality
of life of all South Africans, especially the
Democratic Alliance (DA)
South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, formerly known as
the Democratic Party (DP), espouses liberal democracy and free market principles.
The party's forerunner was the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), whose veteran
politician Helen Suzman was its only representative in the white Parliament for many
years. Suzman upheld liberal policies in the apartheid-era legislature and spoke out
against apartheid laws.
In the 1980s the party increased its Parliamentary seats to seven. Among the new
MPs was Tony Leon, who became DP leader in 1996, introducing a more aggressive
approach to opposition politics.
In 2000 the DP joined forces with the New Nationalist Party
to form the Democratic
Alliance (DA). But the NNP withdrew from the pact in late 2001, and was disbanded
in 2004. Leon resigned as party head in 2007, to be replaced by Helen Zille, who is
also the premier of the Western Cape.
Its leader in parliament is Lindiwe Mazibuko, who leads a parliamentary caucus of 77
members (67 in the National Assembly and 10 in the National Council of Provinces).
The DA increased its share of the vote from 1.7% in 1994 to about 10% in 1999 (as
the former DP), 12.4% in 2004 and 16.6% in 2009.
The DA seeks to promote:
- a prosperous, open-opportunity society in which every person is free and equal
before the law;
- a spirit of mutual respect, inclusivity and participation among the diverse people
of South Africa;
- a free enterprise economy driven by choices, risks and hard work; and
- a vigorous, critical and effective opposition that is loyal to the constitutional order
promotes the well being of the country.
Congress of the People (Cope)
The Congress of the People (Cope) is a new party that contested its first in April
2009, winning 7.42% of the vote. It was formed by breakaway ANC members
dissatisfied with that organisation's decision to "recall" then-President Thabo Mbeki in
September 2008 and replace him with Kgalema Motlanthe.
Cope was launched in at the November Convention held in Johannesburg in 2008.
Its prominent founding members include Mosiuoa Lekota, the former minister of
defence who resigned from the Cabinet after Mbeki stepped down, as well as former
Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa, former Congress of South African Trade Unions
president Willie Madisha, and Barney Pityana, the
vice-chancellor and principal of the
University of South Africa.
At the November Convention, Cope adopted the following principles in its declaration:
- Supremacy of the Constitution.
- Building social cohesion based on values we can all defend.
- Freedom and equality before the law.
- Participatory democracy.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, draws its support
largely from Zulu-speaking South Africans. Its strongholds are the rural areas of
KwaZulu-Natal and the migrant workers' hostels in the metropolitan areas of
Buthelezi has led the IFP since he founded it as the Inkatha National Cultural
Liberation Movement in 1975. His political career dates back to
the 1940s, when he
joined the ANC Youth League while studying at Fort Hare University.
In 1953 he took up a position as chief of the Buthelezi clan, and in 1970 was
appointed head of the KwaZulu Territorial Authority in terms of the apartheid-era
Bantu Administration Act. He became the homeland's chief minister in 1976.
Inkatha was transformed into a political party in July 1990, championing federalism
as the best political option for South Africa.
Its focus is on social justice: "We believe in effective and real equal access to all
available social, economic and political opportunities, and we reject any form of
communism and autocratic populism." The IFP's manifesto seeks the resolution to a
number of South African issues, especially the AIDS crisis, in addition to addressing
unemployment, crime, poverty and corruption and prevent the consolidation of a
The IFP also believes in integrating traditional leadership into
the system of
governance by recognising traditional communities as models of societal organisation.
Buthelezi heads KwaZulu-Natal's House of Traditional Leaders, which advises the
government on issues relating to traditional leaders.
Independent Democrats (ID)
The Independent Democrats (ID) is one of South Africa's newer mainstream political
parties, formed in March 2003 under the leadership of Patricia de Lille. De Lille is a
former trade unionist and a long-time member of and MP for the Pan Africanist
Congress, which she left to form the ID.
De Lille has gained massive support for her forthright stand against corruption. A
2004 survey revealed her to be South Africa's favourite opposition politician.
With the motto "Back to Basics", the ID's policies are fairly
centrist. It considers
unemployment, poverty, crime, corruption, housing, HIV/Aids, education and health
its primary focus.
In August 2010, the party announced it would be merging with the DA. In terms of
the agreement, the two parties will be completely integrated by 2014. Until then, ID
MPs would be entitled to hold dual membership until the general election.
De Lille, now a dual member of both the ID and the DA, is the mayor of Cape Town.
United Democratic Movement (UDM)
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) was formed in 1997 by Bantu Holomisa,
who was expelled from the ANC after accusing a top party official of corruption.
Holomisa, the former military strongman in the former homeland of the Transkei,
teamed up with Roelf Meyer, a former Nationalist Party
Cabinet minister, to form the
new party. Meyer later left politics to pursue other interests.
The party envisages "the coming together of all in South Africa", to build one nation
that ensures a quality life for every citizen.
Freedom Front/Vryheidsfront Plus (FF+)
The Freedom Front was formed in 1993 by Constand Viljoen, the former chief of the
South African Defence Force. Viljoen came out of retirement to lead a group of
Afrikaners who wanted to form a political party.
As head of the Afrikaner Volksfront, Viljoen was instrumental in convincing
conservative Afrikaners to participate in the new dispensation, through which, he
argued, the issue of self determination should be taken up.
The new Freedom Front Plus, headed by Pieter Mulder, has four
seats in the National
Assembly. It aims to tackle crime and corruption, and help Afrikaners to "protect
their culture, education and values".
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) was formed in December 1993 with
the aim of representing South African Christians in Parliament. It won two National
Assembly seats in 1994 and six in 1999. It currently holds three seats.
The ACDP was the only party in the National Assembly that voted against the
adoption of the Constitution in 1994, citing moral and Biblical objections to some of
the document's clauses – particularly the rights of gays and lesbians.
According to its manifesto, the ACDP stands for "Christian principles, freedom of
religion, a free market economy, family
values, community empowerment and
human rights in a federal system".
United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP)
The United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) was formed by Lucas Mangope, head
of the apartheid-era "homeland" of Bophuthatswana. Mangope was among the first
homeland leaders to accept so-called independence for his scattered country for the
Setswana-speaking people. The UCDP was the only party allowed to operate in the
territories under his control.
Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was formed in 1959 as a breakaway from the
ANC. Influenced by the
Africanist ideals of Kwame Nkrumah, it promotes the return
of the land to the indigenous people.
The PAC was outlawed with the ANC in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre. Its
leaders were exiled or detained for long periods. These included Robert Sobukwe, its
founder and leader, who was incarcerated in Robben Island until 1969 and then
placed under house arrest until his death in 1978.
The party's support has been steadily eroded since 1994, with voters favouring the
Minority Front (MF)
The Minority Front, created by the maverick Amichand Rajbansi and now led by his
widow, Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi, says it represents the interests of the Indian
community. Apart from its two seats in the National Assembly, the party is also
represented in the Ethekwini (Durban)
Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo)
The Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) preaches the philosophy of black
emancipation and black consciousness, a philosophy popularised by Steve Biko, who
was killed in police cells in 1977.
African People's Convention (APC)
The African People's Convention Azanian People's Convention was created out of the
2007 defection of two prominent PAC members of parliament. It was the only party
created by the now-abolished practice known as "floor-crossing" to contest the 2009
Communist Party (SACP)
The South African Communist Party (SACP) is not officially represented in Parliament,
but a number of its members occupy seats by virtue of their dual ANC membership
The party was relaunched as an underground party in 1953 after its predecessor, the
Communist Party of South Africa, was banned in 1950.
The SACP has had a close working relationship with the ANC since the 1960s, when
anti-apartheid organisations were forced to operate from exile. Members of both
organisations held dual membership and served in the structures of both bodies.
The party's membership overlaps with those of the ANC and the Congress of South
African Trade Unions (Cosatu), its partners in what is known as the tripartite alliance.
It has significant representation in the ANC and government, from the executive
down to local government
The party believes in the establishment of a socialist society, which it says should be
characterised by democracy, equality, freedom, and the socialisation of the
predominant part of the economy.
The SACP and Cosatu have openly disagreed with the government's macroeconomic
strategies, and the privatisation of state assets, arguing that the policy has failed to
New National Party (NNP)
The New National Party (NNP), formerly the Nationalist Party, ruled South Africa for
the 46 years of the apartheid era, from 1948 to 1994. The second-largest party after
the country's first democratic elections in 1994, its voter base abandoned it in large
In the 1994 elections the NNP, led by FW de Klerk, gained 20% of the vote, making
it the official opposition to the ANC government. It also won a majority of votes in
the Western Cape province, giving it control of the
The NNP, along with the IFP, joined Nelson Mandela's government of national unity
after the 1994 elections. De Klerk was one of two executive deputy presidents, the
other being the ANC's Thabo Mbeki, and NNP members occupied important Cabinet
positions. This ANC-NNP coalition also extended to the Western Cape, where the two
parties shared executive posts.
The NNP, however, withdrew from the government of national unity in 1996, leaving
the ANC and IFP as the only partners in the Cabinet.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk took over the leadership of the NNP in 1997, at a time
when the party was facing an organisational crisis as well as increasing defections to
After suffering heavy losses in the 1999 elections, the NNP joined forces with the DP
and the Federal Alliance to form the Democratic Alliance in July 2000, making the
NNP and DP the ruling coalition in the Western Cape.
Just over a year later,
in October 2001, the NNP withdrew from the Democratic
Alliance, throwing Western Cape politics into turmoil.
In August 2004 the NNP's national executive took a unanimous decision to disband
the party. Most of its former representatives went on to join the ANC.
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Reviewed: 31 August 2012