Elections in South Africa

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Elections in South Africa are held for the National Assembly, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. Elections follow a five-year cycle, with national and provincial elections held simultaneously and municipal elections held two years later. The electoral system is based on party-list proportional representation, which means that parties are represented in proportion to their electoral support. For municipal councils there is a mixed-member system in which wards elect individual councillors alongside those named from party lists.

In elections of the National Assembly, every South African citizen who is 18 or older may vote, including (from the 2014 election) those resident outside South Africa. In elections of a provincial legislature or municipal council, only those resident within the province or municipality may vote. All elections are conducted by the Electoral Commission of South Africa, which is an independent body established by the Constitution.


At the Union[edit]

The Union of South Africa was created on 31 May 1910 by the South Africa Act 1909, an act of the Imperial Parliament. The House of Assembly (the lower house of the newly created Parliament of South Africa) and the provincial councils were elected by first-past-the-post voting in single-member electoral divisions. The franchise in these elections was initially the same as the franchise for the lower houses in the four colonies that had formed the Union, so there were different qualifications in different provinces.

In the Transvaal and the Orange Free State the vote was limited by law to white men over the age of 21. In Natal the vote was limited to men over 21 who met property and literacy qualifications; in theory this could include non-white men but in practice only very small numbers managed to qualify: in 1910 over 99% of the electorate was white. In the Cape Province the franchise was also limited to men over 21 who met property and literacy qualifications, and non-white men did qualify in significant numbers, making up approximately 15% of the electorate in 1910. The qualifications in the Cape and Natal also excluded a substantial number of poorer white men. Only white men could stand for election to the House of Assembly, even from the Cape constituencies. The franchise rights of non-white voters in the Cape (but not in Natal) were entrenched in the South Africa Act by a provision that they could only be reduced by an act of Parliament passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament sitting in a joint session.

Enfranchisement of white women and poor whites[edit]

In 1930 the National Party government of J. B. M. Hertzog passed the Women's Enfranchisement Act, which extended the right to vote and the right to stand for election to all white women over the age of 21. In the following year the Franchise Laws Amendment Act lifted the property and literacy requirements for white male voters in the Cape and Natal, with the result that all white citizens over 21 were enfranchised. As the exclusion of women and the literacy and property qualifications continued to apply to non-white voters, these acts had the effect of diluting their electoral power by more than doubling the number of white voters.

At the next following general election in 1933, Leila Reitz was elected as the first female MP, representing Parktown for the South African Party.

Segregation of black voters[edit]

In 1936 the Hertzog government enacted the Representation of Natives Act, which removed black voters from the common voters' rolls and placed them on separate "native voters' rolls". The act was passed by the required two-thirds majority in a joint session. Black voters could no longer vote in ordinary elections for the House of Assembly or the Cape Provincial Council; instead they would separately elect three members of the assembly and two members of the council. Four senators would also be indirectly elected by chiefs, tribal councils and local councils for "native areas". The Representation of Natives Act was repealed in 1959 and consequently the seats of the "native representative members" were abolished in 1960. From this point the only political representation of black South Africans was in the Bantustan legislatures.

Segregation of coloured voters[edit]

After coming to power in 1948 the National Party engaged in a policy of removing coloured voters in a similar manner to black voters. In 1951 Parliament passed the Separate Representation of Voters Act, which removed coloured voters from the common voters roll and instead allowed them to separately elect four MPs. The act was challenged on the basis that it had not been passed with a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting, as required by the South Africa Act, and in 1952 the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court declared it to be invalid.

A subsequent attempt by the government to circumvent the Supreme Court by creating a High Court of Parliament failed. In the election of 1953, coloured voters in the Cape cast their ballots in the same constituencies as white voters. In 1955 the government introduced a new act which reconstituted the Senate, providing the two-thirds majority necessary to validate the Separate Representation of Voters Act.

This separate representation of coloured voters in the House of Assembly was ended in 1970. Instead, all coloured adults were given the right to vote for the Coloured Persons' Representative Council, which had limited legislative powers and was permanently dissolved in 1980.

Republic referendum[edit]

In 1960 a whites-only referendum was held to decide whether South Africa should become a republic. No changes were made to the franchise with the Republic's emergence in 1961. However with the policy of establishing Bantustans the remaining black representation in the Senate was completely removed.

Tricameral Parliament[edit]

In 1983 a referendum on constitutional reform was held, as a result of which the Tricameral Parliament was formed, consisting of three separate houses to represent white, coloured and Indian South Africans. The existing House of Assembly was retained with its white electorate, while two new houses were created: the House of Representatives elected by coloured voters, and the House of Delegates elected by Indian voters. Elections to these houses were conducted on the basis of first-past-the-post voting in single-member electoral divisions.

End of Apartheid[edit]

During the negotiations to end apartheid the Interim Constitution was enacted. It introduced universal suffrage on a non-racial basis, and replaced first-past-the-post voting with party-list proportional representation. South Africans of all races took part in the first fully democratic elections in 1994. "Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government" are founding principles of the 1996 Constitution of South Africa, and the right of all citizens to vote is included in the Bill of Rights.

In the post-apartheid era the Constitutional Court has struck down two attempts by the government to deny the vote to convicted criminals in prison. The court has also ruled that South Africans living outside the country must be allowed to vote.

List of elections[edit]

Since 1910, parliamentary general elections have been held on the following dates.

Last election results[edit]

2009 general election[edit]

e • d Summary of the 22 April 2009 National Assembly election results[1]
Party Leader Votes % +/− Seats +/− from last
+/− from before
this election[b]
African National Congress Jacob Zuma 11,650,748 65.90 −3.80 264 −15 −33
Democratic Alliance Helen Zille 2,945,829 16.66 +4.29 67 +17 +20
Congress of the People[c] Mosiuoa Lekota 1,311,027 7.42 +7.42 30 +30 +30
Inkatha Freedom Party Mangosuthu Buthelezi 804,260 4.55 −2.42 18 −10 −5
Independent Democrats Patricia de Lille 162,915 0.92 −0.81 4 −3 0
United Democratic Movement Bantu Holomisa 149,680 0.85 −1.43 4 −5 −2
Freedom Front Plus Pieter Mulder 146,796 0.83 −0.06 4 0 0
African Christian Democratic Party Kenneth Meshoe 142,658 0.81 −0.80 3 −4 −1
United Christian Democratic Party Lucas Mangope 66,086 0.37 −0.38 2 −1 −1
Pan Africanist Congress Letlapa Mphahlele 48,530 0.27 −0.45 1 −2 0
Minority Front Amichand Rajbansi 43,474 0.25 −0.11 1 −1 −1
Azanian People's Organisation Jacob Dikobo 38,245 0.22 −0.03 1 0 0
African People's Convention[d] Themba Godi 35,867 0.20 +0.20 1 +1 −1
Movement Democratic Party[c] 29,747 0.17 +0.17 0 0 0
Al Jama-ah[c] 25,947 0.15 +0.15 0 0 0
Christian Democratic Alliance[e] Theunis Botha 11,638 0.07 −0.13 0 0 −1
National Democratic Convention[f] 10,830 0.06 +0.06 0 0 −4
New Vision Party[c] 9,296 0.05 +0.05 0 0 0
United Independent Front[f] Nomakhaya Mdaka 8,872 0.05 +0.05 0 0 0
Great Kongress of South Africa[c] 8,271 0.05 +0.05 0 0 0
South African Democratic Congress[c] Ziba Jiyane 6,035 0.03 +0.03 0 0 0
Keep It Straight and Simple 5,440 0.03 −0.01 0 0 0
Pan Africanist Movement[c] 5,426 0.03 +0.03 0 0 0
Alliance of Free Democrats[f] 5,178 0.03 +0.03 0 0 0
Women Forward[c] 5,087 0.03 +0.03 0 0 0
A Party[c] 2,847 0.02 +0.02 0 0 0
Total 17,680,729 100.00 400
Spoilt votes 239,237


  1. ^ Change in seats compared to the composition of the legislature after the election of 14 April 2004.
  2. ^ Change in seats compared to the composition of the legislature after the second floor-crossing period that ended on 15 September 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Party did not contest the previous election to this legislature.
  4. ^ Party did not contest the previous election to this legislature, having been created during the floor-crossing period of 2007.
  5. ^ Successor to the Christian Democratic Party, the Federation of Democrats and the New Labour Party in this legislature.
  6. ^ a b c Party did not contest the previous election to this legislature, having been created during the floor-crossing period of 2005.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "April 22, 2009 General Election Results - Republic of South Africa Totals". Election Resources on the Internet. Retrieved 24 December 2010. 

External links[edit]