Politics of South Africa

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This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
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The central area of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa.

The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. The President of South Africa, serves both as head of state and as head of government - in the same manner as prime ministers of other nations, the President is elected by the National Assembly (the lower house of the South African Parliament) and must enjoy the confidence of the Assembly in order to remain in office. South Africans also elect provincial legislatures which govern each of the country's nine provinces.

Since the end of apartheid in the 1990s the African National Congress (ANC) has dominated South Africa's politics. The ANC is the ruling party in the national legislature, as well as in eight of the nine provinces (Western Cape is governed by the Democratic Alliance). The ANC received 62.15% of the vote during the 2014 general election. It had received 62.9%[1] of the popular vote in the 2011 municipal election. The main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance, led by Helen Zille, which received 22.23% of the vote in the 2014 election. Other major political parties represented in Parliament include the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Inkatha Freedom Party, which mainly represents Zulu voters. The formerly dominant New National Party, which both introduced and ended apartheid through its predecessor the National Party, disbanded in 2005 to merge with the ANC.

As of 2009, Jacob Zuma serves as the South African president.

South African Government[edit]

South Africa is a parliamentary representative democratic republic, wherein the President of South Africa, elected by parliament, is the head of government, and of a multi party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of Parliament, the Council of Provinces and the National Assembly. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Government is three-tiered, with representatives elected at the national, provincial and local levels.


Following the 1994 elections, South Africa was governed under an interim constitution. This constitution required the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a permanent constitution by 9 May 1996.

The Government of National Unity (GNU) established under the interim constitution ostensibly remained in effect until the 1999 national elections. The parties originally comprising the GNU – the African National Congress (ANC), the National Party (NP), and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) – shared executive power. On 30 June 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of the opposition.


Under the Constitution, the President is both head of state and head of government.

Political parties and their current vote share[edit]

For other political parties see List of political parties in South Africa. An overview on elections and election results is included in Elections in South Africa.

General elections take place every 5 years. The first fully multi-racial democratic election was held in 1994, the second in 1999, the third in 2004, the fourth in 2009, and the most recent in 2014. Until 2008, elected officials were allowed to change political party, while retaining their seats, during set windows which occurred twice each electoral term, due to controversial floor crossing legislative amendments made in 2002. The last two floor crossing windows occurred in 2005 and in 2007.

After the 2009 elections, the ANC lost its two-thirds majority in the national legislature which had allowed it to unilaterally alter the constitution.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are in a formal alliance with the ruling ANC (the so-called Tripartite Alliance), and thus do not stand separately for election.

e • d Summary of the 22 April 2009 National Assembly election results[2]
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.

Human rights[edit]

The constitution's bill of rights provides extensive guarantees, including equality before the law and prohibitions against discrimination; the right to life, privacy, property, and freedom and security of the person; prohibition against slavery and forced labour; and freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. The legal rights of criminal suspects also are enumerated. It also includes wide guarantees of access of food, water, education, health care, and social security. The constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary, and, in practice, these provisions are respected.

Citizens' entitlements to a safe environment, housing, education, and health care are included in the bill of rights, and are known as secondary constitutional rights. In 2003 the constitutional secondary rights were used by the HIV/AIDS activist group the Treatment Action Campaign as a means of forcing the government to change its health policy.

Violent crime, including violence against women and children, and organised criminal activity are at high levels and are a grave concern. Partly as a result, vigilante action and mob justice sometimes occur.

Some members of the police commit abuses, and deaths in police custody as a result of excessive force remain a problem. In April 1997, the government established an Independent Complaints Directorate to investigate deaths in police custody and deaths resulting from police action.

Some discrimination against women continues, and discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS is becoming serious.

There has been growing political intolerance and repression.[3]

Notable politicians[edit]

Many leaders of former bantustans or homelands have had a role in South African politics since their abolition.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi was chief minister of his Kwa-Zulu homeland from 1976 until 1994. In post-apartheid South Africa he has served as President of the Inkatha Freedom Party. He was a Minister in President Mandela's cabinet. He also acted as President of the country when President Nelson Mandela was out of the country.

Bantubonke Holomisa, who was a general in the homeland of Transkei from 1987, has served as the president of the United Democratic Movement since 1997. Today he is a Member of Parliament.

General Constand Viljoen is a former chief of the South African Defence Force, who, as a leader of the Afrikaner Volksfront, sent 1500[citation needed] of his militiamen to prop up the government of Lucas Mangope and to contest the termination of Bophuthatswana as a homeland in 1994. He co-founded the Freedom Front in 1994. He has retired from being a Member of Parliament.

Lucas Mangope, former[citation needed] chief of the Motsweda Ba hurutshe-Boo-Manyane tribe of the Tswana, ex-president of the former bantustan of Bophuthatswana, was the leader of the United Christian Democratic Party.


  1. ^ "Local Government Elections 2011". Results Summary - All Ballots. Independent Electoral Commission. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  2. ^ "April 22, 2009 General Election Results - Republic of South Africa Totals". Election Resources on the Internet. Retrieved 24 December 2010. 
  3. ^ Political tolerance on the wane in South Africa, Imraan Buccus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, SA Reconciliation Barometer, 2011

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]