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Politics of South Africa

Politics of South Africa
Polity typeUnitary dominant-party parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
ConstitutionConstitution of South Africa
Legislative branch
Upper house
NameNational Council of Provinces
Presiding officerAmos Masondo, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces
Lower house
NameNational Assembly
Presiding officerThandi Modise, Speaker of the National Assembly
Executive branch
Head of State and Government
CurrentlyCyril Ramaphosa
AppointerNational Assembly
NameCabinet of South Africa
Current cabinetSecond Cabinet of Cyril Ramaphosa
Deputy leaderDeputy President
Judicial branch
NameJudiciary of South Africa
Constitutional Court
Chief judgeMogoeng Mogoeng
Supreme Court of Appeal
Chief judgeMandisa Maya
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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. The President is elected by the National Assembly (the lower house of the South African Parliament) and must retain 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 1994 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 Mmusi Maimane (previously 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. Jacob Zuma served as President of South Africa since May 9, 2009 until his resignation in February 2018. Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa. The country's 2019 general election was held on May 8.

The Economist Intelligence Unit rated South Africa a "flawed democracy" in 2019.[2] It has been argued that South Africa represents a dysfunctional state.[3]

South African government

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

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 
Party Votes % +/− Seats +/−
list African National Congress 11,436,921 62.15 Decrease 3.75 249 Decrease 15
list Democratic Alliance 4,091,584 22.23 [a]Increase 4.62 89 [a]Increase 18
list Economic Freedom Fighters 1,169,259 6.35 New 25 New
list Inkatha Freedom Party 441,854 2.40 Decrease 2.15 10 Decrease 8
list National Freedom Party 288,742 1.57 New 6 New
list United Democratic Movement 184,636 1.00 Increase 0.16 4 Steady 0
list Freedom Front Plus 165,715 0.90 Increase 0.07 4 Steady 0
list Congress of the People 123,235 0.67 Decrease 6.75 3 Decrease 27
list African Christian Democratic Party 104,039 0.57 Decrease 0.24 3 Steady 0
list African Independent Congress 97,642 0.53 New 3 New
list Agang SA 52,350 0.28 New 2 New
list Pan Africanist Congress 37,784 0.21 Decrease 0.07 1 Steady 0
list African People's Convention 30,676 0.17 Decrease 0.04 1 Steady 0
list Al Jama-ah 25,976 0.14 Decrease 0.01 0 Steady 0
list Minority Front 22,589 0.12 Decrease 0.12 0 Decrease 1
list United Christian Democratic Party 21,744 0.12 Decrease 0.26 0 Decrease 2
list Azanian People's Organisation 20,421 0.11 Decrease 0.11 0 Decrease 1
list Bushbuckridge Residents Association 15,271 0.08 New 0 New
list Independent Civic Organisation 14,472 0.08 New 0 New
list Patriotic Alliance 13,263 0.07 New 0 New
list Workers and Socialist Party 8,331 0.05 New 0 New
list Ubuntu Party 8,234 0.04 New 0 New
list Kingdom Governance Movement 6,408 0.03 New 0 New
list Front National 5,138 0.03 New 0 New
list Keep It Straight and Simple Party 4,294 0.02 Decrease 0.01 0 Steady 0
list Pan Africanist Movement 3,815 0.02 Decrease 0.01 0 Steady 0
list First Nation Liberation Alliance 3,297 0.02 New 0 New
list United Congress 3,136 0.02 New 0 New
list Peoples Alliance 1,671 0.01 New 0 New
Total 18,402,497 100.00 400
Valid votes 18,402,497 98.65
Spoilt votes 251,960 1.35
Total votes cast 18,654,457 100.00
Registered voters/turnout 25,381,293 73.48
Source: IEC


  1. ^ a b Compared to the combined performance of the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Democrats and the South African Democratic Convention in 2009.

Human rights

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 are accused of applying excessive force and abusing suspects in custody; as a result, the number of deaths in police custody remains 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.[4]

Notable politicians

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 served as acting President of South Africa when President Nelson Mandela was overseas.

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[5] 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" (PDF). Results Summary - All Ballots. Independent Electoral Commission. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  2. ^ The Economist Intelligence Unit (8 January 2019). "Democracy Index 2019". Economist Intelligence Unit. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  3. ^ Greffrath, Wynand Neethling (2015). State dysfunction : the concept and its application to South Africa (Thesis thesis).
  4. ^ Political tolerance on the wane in South Africa, Imraan Buccus, University of KwaZulu-Natal, SA Reconciliation Barometer, 2011
  5. ^ "Mangope, Lucas Manyane - The O'Malley Archives". Retrieved 11 September 2016.

Further reading

  • Habib, Adam (2013). South Africa's suspended revolution - Hopes and prospects. Wits University Press. ISBN 978-1-86814-608-6.
  • Plaut, Martin; Holden, Paul (2012). Who Rules South Africa?. Biteback Publishing. ISBN 978-1849544085.
  • Thuynsma, Heather (Ed.) (2017). Political Parties in South Africa - Do They Undermine or Underpin Democracy?. Africa Institute of South Africa. ISBN 978-0-7983-0514-3.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

External links