Government of South Africa
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The Republic of South Africa is a constitutional democracy with three-tier system of government and an independent judiciary, operating in a parliamentary system. Legislative authority is held by the Parliament of South Africa. Executive authority is vested in the President of South Africa who is head of state and head of government, and his Cabinet. The President is elected from the Parliament to serve a fixed term. South Africa's government differs greatly from those of other Commonwealth nations. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own spheres, and are defined in the South African Constitution as "distinctive, interdependent and interrelated".
Operating at both national and provincial levels ("spheres") 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.
The national government is composed of three inter-connected branches:
- Legislative: Parliament, consisting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces
- Executive: The President, who is both Head of State and Head of Government
- Judicial: The Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, and the High Court
All bodies of the South African government are subject to the rule of the Constitution, which is the supreme law in South Africa.
The bicameral Parliament of South Africa makes up the legislative branch of the national government. It consists of the National Assembly (the lower house) and the National Council of Provinces (the upper house). The National Assembly consists of 400 members elected by popular vote using a system of party-list proportional representation. Half of the members are elected from parties' provincial lists and the other half from national lists.
Following the implementation of the new constitution on 3 February 1997 the National Council of Provinces replaced the former Senate with essentially no change in membership and party affiliations, although the new institution's responsibilities have been changed; with the body now having special powers to protect regional interests, including the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities. In ordinary legislation, the two chambers have coordinate powers, but all proposals for appropriating revenue or imposing taxes must be introduced in the National Assembly.
Under the prevailing Westminster system, the leader of the political party or coalition of parties that wins a majority of the seats in the National Assembly is named President. The President and the Ministers are responsible to the Parliament, of which they must be elected members. General elections are held at least once every five years. The last general election was held on 22 April 2009.
The President, Deputy President and the Ministers make up the executive branch of the national government. The president and ministers are Members of Parliament who are appointed by the President to head the various departments of the national government. The president is elected by parliament from its members. The ministers individually, and the Cabinet collectively, are accountable to Parliament for their actions.
Each minister is responsible for one or more departments, and some ministers have a deputy minister to whom they delegate some responsibility. The portfolios, incumbent ministers and deputies, and departments are shown in the following table.
The third branch of the national government is an independent judiciary. The judicial branch interprets the laws, using as a basis the laws as enacted and explanatory statements made in the Legislature during the enactment. The legal system is based on Roman-Dutch law and English common law and accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations. The constitution's bill of rights provides for due process including the right to a fair, public trial within a reasonable time of being charged and the right to appeal to a higher court. To achieve this, there are four major tiers of courts:
- Magistrates' Courts – The court where civil cases involving less than R100 000, and cases involving minor crimes, are heard.
- High Courts – The court of appeal for cases from the magistrates courts, as well as the court where major civil and criminal cases are first heard.
- Supreme Court of Appeal – The final court of appeal for matters not pertaining to the constitution.
- Constitutional Court – The final court of appeal for matters related to the constitution
In addition provision is made in the constitution for other courts established by or recognized in terms of an Act of Parliament.
The provincial governments of the nine provinces of South Africa have their own executive and legislative branches, but no separate judicial systems. In each province the legislative branch consists of a provincial legislature, varying in size from 30 to 80 members, which is elected through party-list proportional representation. The legislature elects one of its members as Premier to lead the executive branch, and the Premier appoints between five and ten members of the legislature as an executive council (a cabinet) to lead the various departments of the provincial government.
In each legislative body, the party or coalition of parties holding a majority of seats forms the government. The largest party not in the government is recognized as the official opposition.