The Republic of South Africa is a parliamentary republic/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 by 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:
All bodies of the South African government are subject to the rule of the Constitution, which is the supreme law in South Africa.
South African Parliament Buildings, Cape Town – seat of Legislative arm of government
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.
The President is elected by the members of the General Assembly. Upon election the President resigns as an MP and appoints a Cabinet of Ministers from among the members. Ministers however retain their parliamentary seats. 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 7 May 2014.
The Union Buildings, the seat of the national executive, the Administrative arm of government. Pic by Delwyn Verasamy
The President, Deputy President and the Ministers make up the executive branch of the national government. 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:
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.
Local government in South Africa consists of municipalities of various types. The largest metropolitan areas are governed by metropolitan municipalities, while the rest of the country is divided into district municipalities, each of which consists of several local municipalities. After the municipal election of 18 May 2011 there were eight metropolitan municipalities, 44 district municipalities and 226 local municipalities.
Municipalities are governed by municipal councils which are elected every five years. The councils of metropolitan and local municipalities are elected by a system of mixed-member proportional representation, while the councils of district municipalities are partly elected by proportional representation and partly appointed by the councils of the constituent local municipalities.
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.