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 vocal.

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 national government.

  • For a list of all South African political parties registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, visit

To help you get the political picture, here's a summary of the history and policies of South Africa's major political parties - including two brand-new one parties, the EFF and Agang SA, another that's not officially represented in Parliament, and one that no longer exists.


The 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.

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. 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 country.

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 the People.

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 poor."

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 vision for South Africa is of "an open opportunity society in which every person is free, secure and equal, where everyone has the opportunity to improve the quality of his life and pursue her dreams, and in which every language and culture has equal respect and recognition".

Congress of the People (Cope)

The Congress of the People (Cope) is a new party that contested its first election 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 included Mosiuoa Lekota, the former minister of defence who resigned from the Cabinet after Mbeki stepped down, as well as former Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa. Lekota and Shilowa locking of horns over leadership of the party saw them land in court, but Lekota was re-elected as the party's leader in January 2014. Former Congress of South African Trade Unions president Willie Madisha was elected deputy president of COPE.

Cope has 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 Gauteng.

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.

The IFP's focus is on social justice and its manifesto seeks the resolution to a number of South African issues - the AIDS crisis, unemployment, crime, poverty and corruption - and to prevent the consolidation of a one-party state.

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.

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. ID MPs are 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 Plus/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 ANC.

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) metropolitan council.

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 elections.


South African 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 structures.

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 create jobs.

Agang SA

Formed at the beginning of 2013 by Mamphele Ramphele, Agang is the new kid on the block of South Africa's political scene.

Agang, which is the Nguni word for "to build", encourages reforms towards direct governance, striving to "build a stronger democracy in which citizens will be at the centre of public life".

In January 2014, Ramphele accepted an invitation from the DA to stand as the official opposition's presidential candidate in the 2014 general election. A few days later, however, Ramphele rejected the idea of joining the DA and the proposed merger fell through. Ramphele will take her own party through to the election.

Economic Freedom Fighters

Economic Freedom Fighters was formed by Julius Malema after he was expelled by the ANC as leader of the Youth League in 2013. Malema carries the title, "commander in chief".

The EFF describes itself as "a radical and militant economic emancipation movement" that is "pursuing the struggle for economic emancipation".

Registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, the EFF will contest the 2014 general election.

New National Party (NNP)

Although disbanded, the New National Party is included here for historical reasons. Formerly the Nationalist Party, it ruled South Africa for the 46 years of the apartheid era, from 1948 to 1994.

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 provincial legislature.

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 and increasing defections to opposing parties.

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.

SAinfo reporter and

Reviewed: February 2014

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