Government in South Africa
South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tier system of government and an independent judiciary. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own spheres, and are defined in the Constitution as "distinctive, interdependent and interrelated".
Operating at both national and provincial levels are advisory bodies drawn from South Africa's traditional leaders.
It is a stated intention in the Constitution that the country be run on a system of co-operative governance.
Legislative authority is vested in Parliament, which is situated in Cape Town and consists of two houses, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. Parliament is bound by the Constitution and must act within its limits.
The National Assembly. The National Assembly consists of no fewer than 350 and no more than 400 members elected for a five-year term on the basis of a common voters’ roll. It is presided over by a Speaker, assisted by a Deputy Speaker. The current Speaker is Dr Frene Ginwala. The current Deputy Speaker is Ms Baleka Mbete.
The number of National Assembly seats awarded to each political party is in proportion to the outcome of the national election, which is held every five years. In South Africa’s second democratic general election in 1999, the African National Congress won 266 seats. They were followed by the Democratic Party with 38 seats, the Inkatha Freedom Party with 34, the New National Party with 28, and the United Democratic Movement with 14. Other smaller parties are also represented.
The National Council of Provinces. Also participating in the legislative process is the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), a body created to achieve co-operative governance and participatory democracy. It is through this body that national and provincial interests are aligned in national legislation that affects the provinces.
The NCOP consists of 54 permanent members and 36 special delegates, and elects its own chairperson. Each of South Africa’s nine provinces sends 10 representatives to the NCOP - six permanent members, and four special delegates headed by the provincial premier or a member of the provincial legislature designated by the premier. There is a formula to ensure that each province’s delegation includes representation by minority parties.
In addition, local (municipal) government representatives may participate in the NCOP but not vote – 10 part-time members represent different categories of municipalities. The South African Local Government Association joined the NCOP in February 1998.
The President and the Cabinet
The President, elected by the National Assembly from among its members, is the executive Head of State and leads the Cabinet. The President may not serve more than two five-year terms in office.
The Cabinet consists of the President, the Deputy President and 25 Ministers. The President appoints the Deputy President and Ministers, assigns their powers and functions, and may dismiss them. All but two Ministers must be selected from among the members of the National Assembly. The members of Cabinet are accountable individually and collectively to Parliament. Deputy Ministers are also appointed by the President from among the members of the National Assembly.
Legislation may be introduced in the National Assembly only by Cabinet members, Deputy Ministers, or a member of a National Assembly committee. Any Bill may be introduced in the National Assembly. In the NCOP, legislation may be introduced only by a member or committee, and it must fall within certain constitutionally defined areas.
Bills passed in the National Assembly must be referred to the NCOP for consideration. The NCOP may pass, propose amendments to or reject a Bill. The National Assembly must reconsider a Bill in cases of amendments or rejections, and pass it again with or without amendments.
This process is simple with regard to Bills affecting national functions such as defence, foreign affairs and justice, when each NCOP delegate has one vote.
However, when the NCOP considers a Bill that affects the provinces – on functions such as security, welfare, education and health – each province has one vote. This is to ensure that provinces first reach consensus individually on the Bill.
Such Bills may be introduced in either the National Assembly or the NCOP. Bills first passed by the NCOP must be referred to the National Assembly, and a mediation committee exists to resolve any disagreements between the two houses. It consists of nine members elected from and by the National Assembly, and nine – one representing each province – from the NCOP.
Ultimately, the National Assembly may override the NCOP by a two-thirds majority.
Bills amending the Constitution require a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly as well as a supporting vote of six of the nine provinces represented in the NCOP. However, preceding that is the requirement that a Bill amending Section 1 of the Constitution, which sets out the state’s founding values, requires a 75% majority in the National Assembly.
(Serious violation of the Constitution is one of the grounds on which the President may be removed from office, also on a two-thirds majority.)
State institutions created to support constitutional democracy are the Public Protector; the Human Rights Commission; the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities; the Commission for Gender Equality; the Auditor-General and the Electoral Commission.